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Encouraging Children Towards a Lifetime of Poetry

Jacqueline Rose By Jacqueline Rose Published on April 17, 2018

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"Teach your children poetry..." wrote the Scottish author, poet and playwright, Walter Scott. 

In many countries children grow up reciting and reading poetry, while in others, literature comes in other forms. But children will usually take to poetry like ducklings to water, they will appreciate the rhythm, most definitely a sense of humor and the younger they are, will have no problem with surrealism or Dada poetry. Given that poetry is on an upswing with a younger generation, why not get your children reading poetry?

A number of publishers produce poetry for children, such as Faber & Faber, Bloodaxe Books, Boyds Mill Press, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the New York Review Books, or Pushkin Press.

Below, for example, is an extract from Ali Smith's retelling of Antigone, by Sophocles, published by Pushkin Press: 

The crow crossed the sky, slow-beating her wings. Beat, beat, beat. It was night, not yet morning, and her feathers were so black that she coasted the air invisible above the city wall.

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Robert Desnos in Le Zoo Poétique, illustration by Bruno Gibert

French Surrealist poet Robert Desnos, who died in a concentration camp, wrote poetry for children, and some say that the following poem, 'The Ant', has hidden references to the Nazi deportations:

An ant that is eighteen meters long
Wearing a hat upon its head
Doesn’t exist, doesn’t exist.
An ant that pulls along and tows
Penguins and ducks in a carriage load
Doesn’t exist, doesn’t exist.
An ant that speaks French, if you please,
An ant that speaks Latin and Javanese
Doesn’t exist, doesn’t exist.
Eh! And why not, indeed?

Translated from French by Vivian Eden

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Bloodaxe Books in the UK publishes poetry in which beautiful poems for older children can be found such as 'How to Cut a Pomegranate', by Imtiaz Dharker:

‘Never,’ said my father,
‘Never cut a pomegranate
through the heart. It will weep blood.
Treat it delicately, with respect.
Just slit the upper skin across four quarters.
This is a magic fruit,
so when you split it open, be prepared
for the jewels of the world to tumble out,
more precious than garnets,
more lustrous than rubies,
lit as if from inside.
Each jewel contains a living seed.
Separate one crystal.
Hold it up to catch the light.
Inside is a whole universe.
No common jewel can give you this.’
Afterwards, I tried to make necklaces
of pomegranate seeds.
The juice spurted out, bright crimson,
and stained my fingers, then my mouth.
I didn’t mind. The juice tasted of gardens
I had never seen, voluptuous
with myrtle, lemon, jasmine,
and alive with parrots’ wings.
The pomegranate reminded me
that somewhere I had another home.
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Or the following poem also published by Bloodaxe, 'The Door', by Czech Republic poet Miroslav Holub:

Go and open the door.
Maybe outside there’s
a tree, or a wood,
a garden,
or a magic city.
Go and open the door.
Maybe a dog’s rummaging.
Maybe you’ll see a face,
or an eye,
or the picture
of a picture.
Go and open the door.
If there’s a fog
it will clear.
Go and open the door.
Even if there’s only
the darkness ticking,
even if there’s only
the hollow wind,
even if
is there,
go and open the door.
At least there’ll be
a draught.

Translated from the Czech by Ian Milner

Every April is National Poetry Month in the US. What better moment to get your kids reading poetry wherever you are? To find out more about poetry recommendations for children there are blogs such as this one, or recommendations from the Poetry Foundation.

Banner image from Le Zoo Poétique illustrated by Bruno Gibert


Jacqueline is a journalist primarily, but not only, interested in fiction and non-fiction with equal passion.

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