Poetry . . . An Invitation to Grow
A poem begins with an invitation, something in the title or opening line that says, Come on in. I have an idea you’re going to like.
That sounds good, so we decide not to close the book or turn the page. We read further to discover a vision we intuitively like. The poet is talking to us the way a friend might.
But what is it that the poet is saying? Is it clear enough that we can relate? Does the sun shine brightly enough in the lines we read for us to ‘get’ it. Or maybe we are left with a feeling that we have been bamboozled in some way, that maybe there are too many words, or words that cloud ideas.
So next we turn to the moon to see if the poem inspires us to have confidence in what the poet is saying, to feel their unseen presence in the words. Maybe the poem makes a leap and ignites those misty moon-lit thoughts we have but don’t know very well. The thoughts that are deeper and richer than our everyday normal words and ideas.
To achieve this the words themselves must spark a musical magic. The swing and sway of the rhythms, the metre and sounds of the vowels, consonants and syllables, these sounds together form the muscle the poem relies on to carry us through to reach the end. For it is ultimately the poet’s craft with words which creates excitement and meaning for us. Our brains buzz and switch into high gear when the exact right words sound great and go together as if that is exactly how they were meant to be.
Maybe by now new thoughts and pictures are growing, pulsing and racing inside our heads. Whipped up by the poem.
If the lines are set out just so on the page the meaning becomes even clearer, enhanced by the physical visualisation of the poem. Then the line breaks work and the poetic form the poet has chosen truly fits the poet’s original intent. Now everything is ringing loud and clear.
If all this comes together we find ourselves thinking, I could have said that. I could become that. We have somehow come to inhabit the voice and mind of the poet for a magical moment or two, and to go on his journey wearing his shoes.
What we look for in the poem are the words that give precise expression to our own inner voice, and reflect our world or how we come to envisage that world and continue to grow into it.
The poet must offer words that inspire the imagination, words that call upon our personal memory store so that we re-imagine, re-pattern and re-position our own personal understanding of things.
All these things that make a poem flash through our minds and hearts are no different for poetry written for children than they are for poetry for adults.
The themes and language of a poem may of course differ. Social, psychological and thematic limits vary according to the age of the reader. But the pure poetic experience is no different: indeed, children are often much closer to poetry than many adults and may welcome it more intimately.
From the first invitation a good poem offers, the child is often more than willing to suspend what they already think and allow themselves to be transported into another world. In fact, they are more eager and open than adults to step inside and treat the poet as a new friend.
The child grows in the ambiguous interplay of sun and moon, of light and shadow. They develop in the bright logic and clarity of facts and ideas they experience of the world. But the child also grows in the belief that there is something else. Something misty, dark and uncontrollable; something that we do not always know. Being close to and accepting the mysterious and the wild plays an important role in the child’s development.
The musicality and rhythm of words are the child’s playground, their very own domain filled with the joy of rhyme, the thrill of rhythm, the love of onomatopoeia.
The child is happy to play: that is how they learn. Through play they learn to problem-solve, to fill in the blanks of what surrounds them and who they are in relation to that world.
The obvious currency for this play is imagination. A dynamic poem, with the right words in the right order can be an inspiring playground for the mind of a child.
The question therefore is not so much whether poetry for children is different from poetry for adults. The point is how best to read and write and share poetry so as to invite the child to engage with the poet’s words, to invite poetry to help grow the child.