recess radio program

07/12/07
Liking Poetry
    by Lola Haskins

Little ones' preferences in food have nothing to do with "should." Take popsicles and corn pops and full sugar baby-yo. Those, Cora likes. Or take spinach and scrambled eggs. Those, she doesn't. And why or why not, who cares?

Now before you go to school, it's the same with things you read. You may remember that as a five year old you liked "The Just So Stories," and you didn't like "Grimm's Fairy Tales." Why? You just did or didn't, that's all. But once you start meeting stories--and poems, which is what I'm really talking about--in school you get the idea that just because they've made it this far, they must be good. And you're supposed to appreciate what's good, right? But what if you don't?

Well, when you're in elementary school, that probably won't bother you much. But if you're an earnest, teacher-pleasing sort of child, if you aren't enjoying the poems in your English texts by the time you get to high school, you'll start feeling there's something wrong with you. And because you don't like feeling that way, you'll naturally start avoiding poetry, and finally you may conclude, out of cussedness if the truth be known, that okay then, you don't like any poems. And you won't be the only one. Lots of people decide they don't like poetry, especially after getting a low grade on some paper because they guessed wrong about what some poem or other was supposed to mean.

But let's rewind the tape. The truth is that words in general and poetry in particular aren't for school. They're for, among other things, fun. And fun's personal. Two year olds know that. That's why they'll sit on your lap and point to the pictures as you read, say, Milne or Shel Silverstein to them. It's also why they'll throw certain other books over their shoulders and if you start in on one of those anyway, make it perfectly clear they aren't interested.

Here's something I know for sure about poetry. There wasn't any point in your life after which you lost the right to have your own taste. And once you realize that, then you're free to look around without worrying that you'll come up short. Here's how it works. Imagine being in a room with 100 people, any 100 people. How many of them, do you think, are going to be your soul mates? Two? Three? Well, it's no different if the 100 people happen to be published poets. In other words, poets are just as varied as anyone else, and if you think you don't like poetry, you just haven't met the right poets, and all you need to do is to keep looking. And if you persist, some day you'll find yourself picking up a book and shoving it out in front of you to your mommy self, gesturing in complete glee, HERE! Read me THIS one.

Copyright 2007 Lola Haskins

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Thursday, 28-Jun-2007 20:40:48 EDT


"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."