Archive for April 2nd, 2007

April Is National Poetry Month

April 2, 2007 @ 7:05 am | Filed under:

And I’m excited about that, because I am a poetry geek in a big, big way. Ever since Anne Shirley inspired eleven-year-old me to memorize some Tennyson so I could walk through woods dreamily and dramatically reciting "The Lady of Shalott"
(never mind that woods were in short supply in the Colorado suburb in
which I grew up), I’ve been hooked. I was even poetry editor of a for a year during grad school. I’ve been reading poems to my kids pretty much since they developed ears. (Even the one whose ears turned out not to work so well.)

I had the privilege of studying with some great poets: Fred Chappell (tremendously great), Alan Shapiro, Vanessa Haley.  I am immensely proud of my good pal Julianna Baggott, poet and novelist, not to mention my former classmate Claudia Emerson,
winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. I published a few poems
myself, before the luxurious expanse of the novel tempted me away.

Speaking of luxury, there was something downright indulgent about
how much time we had in grad school to dig deep into a poem,
"unpacking" it, as we liked to say, savoring every syllable, every
image, every turn of phrase. That was what we were there for: to learn
to write by learning to read. We wrote twenty-page papers on a single
poem; we spent hours discussing the nuances of a single verse. Alan
Shapiro said that if he had his way, all would-be poets would have to
study the work of the masters for seven years before ever being allowed
to pick up a pen. We only had two years to immerse ourselves in such study, and during that time we were expected to produce a thesis consisting of our own original poetry or fiction, but Alan’s intensity impressed us, and we threw ourselves into the serious study of poetry with a sort of virtuous relish.

It was a wonderful experience, but I have to say that not even the heady joy of living and breathing poetry with other poets compares to the delights of immersing myself in poetry with my own children. A good poem makes their eyes shine; that’s the simplest way I can put it. Poetry is power in simplicity, language boiled down to its purest form: a concentration, rich and potent.

In celebration of Poetry Month, I thought it would be fun to do a series of posts on sharing poetry with children over at The Lilting House. I had intended to begin today, but poor Wonderboy’s sad adventure has set my plans back a bit. Today, for us, it’ll be dentists instead of dactyls, alas.