Children, like poets, naturally think about and refer to the big picture. Why is the sky blue? Where does my dog go when it dies? How come I look like I do? Children’s approach to this life they find themselves in is unashamedly philosophical. Kids question. Everything. And poetry, in it’s simplest apparition, takes the form of questioning the existence of whatever reality we come across.
Nature looms large for children. The feeling of biting cold wind, gentle snow falling, or a hot sun: these things we feel on the outside can shape inner experience to a high degree for a child. The poet channels that same experience and reflects the outside through a prism of evocative and sparking language.
Children, like poets, anthropomorphise the world. What we don’t understand we endow with understandable human attributes: animals say all kinds of things, shadows need to be tamed, stars answer our wishes. The anthropomorphising of the universe is part of growing up. When a child stops for a long time to stare at a wonderfully shaped stone, that stone may take on new dimensions. Rocks become figures, clouds take on shapes, sounds say something. This personalisation of the environment is the beginning of metaphor and the first spark of poetry. How does the fog come over the harbour? It comes on little cat feet.
Children, like good poetry, are in perpetual motion. They run. They bound. Hop. Skip. They surprise us with their rhythmic sleight of hand, confound us with symmetry, lull us with melody. For children and poetry share the internal beat of new life which surges through bodies and poetic lines.
Children playing and moving freely develop a vibrant sense memory. A child can easily call on this store of memories as she listens to or writes a story or poem. Poetry too relies on the senses, on words that not only have muscle and rhythm, but which you can practically see or taste, feel or smell. These words are exciting. They stir something in you. Exploring a poem contributes to the child’s vast palette of inner life, of memory, emotion, intelligence, common sense and imagination.
Not only does poetry allow us to colour in who we are, but it gives us the opportunity to be many of the things that we cannot imagine ourselves to be; to magically colour in the who we are about to become. Writing a poem, listening to a poem, reading a poem, hearing the sway and swing of the words, feeling them grip us even if we don’t understand them all, is part of a magical process. Poetic language is living, full of sudden leaps, shadows and endless nuance. These things never truly follow a straight path. Poetry is like that. Daytime logic is cast aside for night time dreams. For poetic language lives on a rhythmic cloud and speaks oh-so-loud to a listening mind.
A poem poses another way of looking at things. When a child hears or reads or writes a poem she knows and feels, from the tip of her nose to the tips of her toes, that there IS another world out there. A world where we can catch a shadow or ride a dragon or talk to a daffodil.
It is our job as adults to make sure our children are well looked after. That they are allowed and encouraged to dream. And, most importantly, that they have an active, vibrant and thoroughly magical relationship to poetry; the place where some of the best dreams live.