Last week, I discovered by way of my child’s teacher, that April is National Poetry month. I like it when I can piggyback onto their education.
I had no idea there was such a thing, but I immediately embraced the concept of celebrating poetry. Since then, I have posted a poem (or at least a few stanzas) on my personal Facebook page every day, just to add my voice to the celebration. My love of poetry is bone deep and familial, and flows through my children as well. Poetry books are a major part of this love.
When my grandmother was a girl, she attended a small, country school. When any student committed a wrong-doing, he or she was required to stay in during recess and memorize a poem. They couldn’t play outside again until they could recite it perfectly; including the title and author’s name. My grandmother must have been a bit of a scamp, because she could recite a prodigious amount of poems from childhood, even well into her seventies. Thanks to this wonderful teacher, her love of poetry was deep-seated for life. I remember many occasions laying on her bed and listening to her recite for hours. Sometimes we would get up and search through her book collection to find more writings by authors that particularly appealed to us. The best resource for great poems was “The Treasury of the Familiar”.
Her son, my father, loved poetry because of his mother
He was exposed to it from a young age. He was very active in DeMolay (https://demolay.org/) while in high school, used poems for his public speaking requirements, often quoting liberally to illustrate a thought or a point. Although he received his own “Treasury” in Junior High, he was drawn to another book of poetry that seems to cover all manner of life experiences and goals. “Leaves of Gold” became his main resource, and my mother tells me that he gave her a copy to share quotes and opinions in letters exchanged while he attended Kansas State University. He gave a new copy “Leaves” to my son when he turned sixteen, making note of the verses that spoke to and had great meaning for me. For my son, it has become a much-loved, much-read volume.
However, when I was growing up my father read to my sister and I from his own “Treasury”. This happened often when we were little, usually after dinner but before bath time. We had our favorites, the earliest being “The Leak in the Dike”. When I was eight, he encouraged me to read “Casey at the Bat” at a grade level talent show. I was painfully shy, and he must have hoped it would help me gain confidence. It took forever to get the phrasing and cadence right. When the big day came, my knees were shaking. However, concentrating on difficult words like “multitude”, “grandeur”, and “writhing”, made me forget the audience. All of that practice came to fruition as the words flowed without my really thinking about it. In my mind, I was at that dusty ballfield, waiting for a good pitch.
So many people don’t realize that poems are also stories.
When I reached young adulthood, my grandmother found a “Treasury” for me in a junkshop. It’s a poor, battered thing but the words inside are still good, and to me, this is the best poetry book around. I started reading to my own children, and we all agree on one universal favorite-a spooky, almost melodramatic epic titled “Face on the Floor”. Each kid has studied poetry willingly, even eagerly. Every summer, when they were little, we decided to learn about something new, just for fun. One year it was cooking, another they chose animals or insects. One memorable year, each chose a poet and studied their lives, learned a poem, and recited it for my husband and I. I knew my grandmother must be smiling down from heaven during those moments.
My son writes poetry, with an ease that baffles and thrills me
His favorite poet, and probably writer in general is Shel Silverstein. Many years ago, he bought “Where the Sidewalk Ends” with his own earnings at a book fair. I know from personal experience that these are the books we keep forever; it is his own personal treasure. My daughters are theater buffs, and love T. S. Elliot’s cat poems, and the Broadway production that came from them. They seem to hear music and definitely see the stories in the words.
It’s not too hard to find a “Treasury” these days. It went into reprint in the early 90’s and there are good copies available all over the Internet. I have two, and will be acquiring more (one for each child). At our house, this is a gift to carry into adulthood. Poetry feeds the soul and reminds us of the important things in life. Alternately, it entertains, or amuses us, to lighten our hearts. It’s easy to search and find specific poems on the Internet, but nothing can replace sitting down with a well-worn volume to idly peruse for new favorites.