“What’s so important about poetry?” she asked.
“I hate poetry and so do the kids.”
I was surprised by her comments and taken a little off guard. I gave her the standard educational answer – that poetry helps kids play with language, practice fluency, and is a great vehicle for teaching many decoding and comprehension strategies. I talked to her about providing scaffolds that can be imitated and sparking ideas for further writing. The conversation soon ended and we were on to something else. But as I thought about it later, I realized I hadn’t given her the heart of what poetry is all about. I think poetry helps us discover ourselves as well as our world. It somehow connects us to our deepest emotions. In her collection of poems She Walks in Beauty, Caroline Kennedy says “When everyday life distracts us, poetry can help us feel centered.” She quotes Wallace Stevens as saying the purpose of poetry is “to help people live their lives.”
I recently linked through another blogger at Markings to an NPR piece by author Alan Heathcock who speaks about the joys he has gotten from reading a poem a day (http://www.npr.org/2011/12/26/143853118/a-poem-a-day-portable-peaceful-and-perfect?sc=tw&cc=share). The idea has spread through Facebook and Twitter, so I think many people are trying it out, as am I.
Lynne and I are working on a new mentor text book about poetry, so for the past several months we have immersed ourselves in all kinds of poetry books. It has been fun making new discoveries and thinking about old favorites in new ways. This morning I read the whimsical poem “The Little Turtle” by Vachel Lindsay. This was a poem I remembered from my childhood, so I was immediately transported to the double row house on 5th Street, sitting on the gray and yellow flowered sofa, reading with my sister. That’s what poetry can do.