Essay on Children's poetry

Thank Goodness It’s (Poetry) Friday

It’s an online literary happy hour, without the drinks.

by Susan Thomsen

It’s an online literary happy hour, without the quaffs (or perhaps with—we’ll know for sure if an entry ever turns up on YouTube): every week, children’s book lovers and bloggers gather in cyberspace for Poetry Friday, a tradition launched by Kelly Herold, editor of the children’s literature webzine The Edge of the Forest. “Taking my cue from some favorite academic bloggers,” she wrote nearly a year ago on her blog, Big A, little a, “I’m instituting poetry Fridays around here. Kids don’t read poetry enough. Heck, Americans don’t read poetry enough.”


Her first post was a favorite poem from childhood, A.A. Milne’s “Disobedience” (“James James / Morrison Morrison / Weatherby George Dupree”). Some 20 kindred spirits left comments, each a version of “What a good idea! I’m going to do that, too.” Since then, the kidlitosphere—a term coined by the middle-grade novelist Melissa Wiley (The Martha Years series) to describe the loose-knit community of bloggers who write about children’s books—has embraced Poetry Friday with fervor. Readers, writers, teachers, parents, librarians, homeschoolers, illustrators, and editors share favorite poems for children and adults, link to cool poetry sites, describe readings they’ve been to, and recommend great books about poetry. (Occasionally, someone gets a virtual beer poured over her head: when readers at the blog What Adrienne Thinks About That discussed Wallace Stevens’s “The Emperor of Ice-Cream,” a squabble broke out, with one commenter railing, “Is this what wound up on some Liberal Arts freshman’s dorm door in word magnets?”)

On my blog, Chicken Spaghetti, I’ve written about rhyming picture books, posted links to poems, and described the debacle of trying to interest my then 6-year-old son in “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” (Longfellow’s classic went severely underappreciated; later, after perusing several weeks of others’ poetry posts, I turned to Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” and everyone was happy.) At Bartography, author Chris Barton offered a terrific review of Diane Siebert’s picture book Tour America: A Journey Through Poems and Art (SeaStar, 2006), while at Scholar’s Blog, Michele Fry often shares some Shakespeare. (A lot of Internet surfers can probably relate to Richard II’s “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.”) The Bard’s work pops up frequently, along with that of W.B. Yeats, Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Langston Hughes, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Because of its inclusive nature, Poetry Friday highlights an enormous range of poetry for children, from rhyming picture books to collections of classics. Among the many titles posted are J. Patrick Lewis’s Blackbeard: The Pirate King (National Geographic Children’s Books, 2006); Nikki Grimes’s A Pocketful of Poems (Clarion Books, 2001); Joyce Sidman’s Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow (Houghton Mifflin, 2006); Robert Service’s The Cremation of Sam McGee; Berkeley Breathed’s A Wish for Wings That Work: An Opus Christmas Story; and Grace Lin’s Our Seasons (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2007). Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” is a perennial favorite.

Anne Boles Levy’s site, Book Buds, called attention to a re-issue of Gwendolyn Brooks’s Bronzeville Boys and Girls (Amistad, 2006), featuring new art by Faith Ringgold. Recently, Kelly R. Fineman, who maintains an eponymous blog at LiveJournal, interviewed Adam Rex, the author and illustrator of Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2006), a very funny picture book of poems about monsters. Poetry Friday even inspired, in part, retired elementary school teacher Elaine Magliaro to start her own blog about children’s poetry, Wild Rose Reader. Throughout April, National Poetry Month, both she and GottaBook’s Gregory K. Pincus, a screenwriter and children’s book author, shared original works each day. Here’s one of Magliaro’s poems, used with the author’s permission.

Giraffe

Giraffe is very tall—
but has a voice so small
you never hear him
bark or roar,
sneeze or snore,
screech or howl,
grunt or growl,
caterwaul…
or ever say a word at all.

Perhaps because his head’s so high,
his sounds get lost up in the sky.

Speaking of permission, copyright violation was initially a problem for the Poetry Friday crowd. But, the situation has improved, thanks to the efforts of people like lawyer-turned-librarian Elizabeth Burns and author Mitali Perkins, who have detailed their concerns and provided resources. Perkins posted “Poetry Friday for Dummies” at her site, Mitali’s Fire Escape. The U.S. Copyright Office maintains an extensive and helpful Web site, as does Stanford University Libraries. As the Stanford site urges, “When in doubt, seek permission.” I advise adhering to copyright fair-use restrictions: if a poem is under copyright protection (and most contemporary works are), bloggers may quote only a couple of lines and then link to the rest of the poem at a copyright-protected site. Lisa Harrison, the second-grade teacher who blogs at Passionately Curious, took the right path: she wrote directly to several poets and received the go-ahead to share a few short works.

A welcoming and diverse community, a core of perhaps 35 bloggers, has coalesced around the poetry sharing, with more joining all the time. Each week, one regular or another volunteers to round up links to all the posts so that participants are listed in one spot. (Anyone can take part by leaving the URL of his or her own post in the comments section of the blogger on round-up duty that week.) We applauded, and laughed in recognition, as Mary Lee Hahn spoofed Frost in her poem “The Book Not Taken” at A Year of Reading. (“Two aisles diverged in my favorite bookstore.”) When GottaBook’s Pincus was featured in The New York Times for popularizing Fibs, poems based on the Fibonacci mathematical sequence, the rest of us toasted and cheered. I asked Pincus for his thoughts about Poetry Friday, and he answered with a Fib, reprinted here with permission:

Post
Link
Unite
Spread the cheer:
Fridays through the year,
Poetry fills the blogosphere.

In a recent e-mail, Poetry Friday instigator Kelly Herold, an associate professor of Russian at Grinnell, said she came late to a love of poetry. “As an American schooled in the 1970s and 80s, I read poetry rarely,” she wrote. “In my many years of school, I memorized only one poem. It wasn't until I began studying poetry in Russian in college that I began to appreciate the beauty and verbal simplicity of a poem. And only then did I begin reading poetry in English. Poetry Friday is a way to read and share as much poetry as possible on a regular basis.”

To that, I raise my glass. It’s full of apple juice, but, still, cheers.

Originally Published: June 13, 2007

COMMENTS (25)

On June 13, 2007 at 5:43pm NYCTEACHER wrote:
Thanks for this great write-up. I'll link to it on my blog. :)

On June 13, 2007 at 11:26pm bookbk wrote:
What a lovely article! You really capture the spirit of Poetry Friday.

Now, if only I can find something to post for this week...

On June 14, 2007 at 12:57am Michele Fry wrote:
Thanks for mentioning me and my Shakespeare addiction, Susan ! A terrific piece which I will link to...

On June 14, 2007 at 7:40am Little Willow wrote:
What a great piece! Thanks for writing this. I'll definitely have to link to it tomorrow. :)

On June 14, 2007 at 1:04pm cloudscome wrote:
What a great write-up! Thanks for sharing the fun.

On June 14, 2007 at 1:38pm Mary Lee wrote:
Great article! Poetry Friday is great fun!

Thanks for mentioning my Frost spoof!

On June 14, 2007 at 3:03pm Elaine Magliaro wrote:
Nicely done, Susan! You did an excellent job of summarizing Poetry Friday in the kidlitosphere.

I certainly feel honored to have had my poem selected for your article.

On June 15, 2007 at 10:08am Becky wrote:
Terrific article, Susan, and I loved the picture. Nice to be able to put a face with the name/blog! And many, many thanks for including Farm School in the list of regulars, which is the kick in the pants I need right now...

On June 15, 2007 at 2:37pm adrienne wrote:
Poetry Friday is one of those things I look forward to every week. I like writing about poetry (even when it irritates my readers -- I *love* the quote you included from my friend Chuck's comments on "The Emperor of Ice-Cream"), and I always find great new things to read while trolling the roundup. In fact, I blogged about a book I found via one of your posts just today, Susan. Bravo on the article, and thanks for the link!

On June 15, 2007 at 3:52pm Karen Edmisten wrote:
Lovely article!

On June 15, 2007 at 6:56pm Liz B wrote:
A fab article; I love how Poetry Friday is about serendipity; and it touched on a need we didn't even know we had. And it's grown into something so much more.... anyway, thank you!

On June 15, 2007 at 7:58pm Mitali Perkins wrote:
Susan, you captured the bonhomie of our Friday poetry afternoons so beautifully in this article. Thank you.

On June 15, 2007 at 9:05pm Jules wrote:
I'm late in getting to this. It's wonderful. Thanks, Susan!

On June 15, 2007 at 9:26pm Liz Garton Scanlon wrote:
This is a lovely uplift about such a fine tradition. Thanks for writing this, Susan!

On June 16, 2007 at 11:01am Susan Thomsen wrote:
Thanks for all the bouquets of nice words, everyone. I had a lot of fun writing the article.

On June 20, 2007 at 9:35pm Barbara Garrett wrote:
Thank you so much for publishing this article.
I lead a Poetry Appreciation interest group.
We are a group of women who have a passion
for reading favorite poems aloud. Many in my
group have grandchildren, and I am always
looking for good books to recommend.
I have never "blogged" before, but Poery
Friday may launch me into the sphere.

Barbara Garrett

On July 4, 2007 at 1:56pm Susan Thomsen wrote:
I have only one warning about blogging: it's addictive!

Come join in on Poetry Friday. It's at my blog on July 13th.

On September 12, 2008 at 9:10am lisa wrote:
Northern Virginia Voters Chime In washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/video/2008/09/11/VI2008091102914.html

On September 12, 2008 at 9:17am mona wrote:
Candidates Promise National-Service Initiatives washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/11/AR2008091103788.html

On September 12, 2008 at 2:03pm jane wrote:
Federal Judge Limits Access to Cellphone Data washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/11/AR2008091103292.html

On September 12, 2008 at 2:08pm lola wrote:
Has Obama Underestimated McCain? voices.washingtonpost.com/the-trail/2008/09/11/misunderestimating_mccain.html

On September 12, 2008 at 2:18pm britney wrote:
Sarah Palin: Who Do We Think She Is? washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/11/AR2008091103630.html

On November 23, 2008 at 5:20am sibghat wrote:
i like ur poetry because it is very interest

On April 10, 2009 at 9:54pm Book Chook wrote:
Thanks so much, my feathered friend, for
this very interesting explanation and
background to Poetry Friday. I
participated yesterday for the first time,
and will do so occasionally from now on,
secure in the knowledge I actually now
understand why!

On May 2, 2014 at 8:31am Carol Varsalona wrote:
I am thrilled to join the Poetry Friday learning community that was
brought to my attention by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater. Life on the Deckle
Edge posted an announcement for the launch of REFLECT WITH ME April
Awakenings' Literary Event in honor of National Poetry Month. The site is
now open. I would be delighted if the site could be visited by those who
are poetry aficionados. Thank you, so much for posting, visiting, and
hopefully commenting on the Virtual Gallery of Poetic Expressions.
http://beyondliteracylink.blogspot.com/2014/04/april-awakenings.html

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Biography

Susan Thomsen blogs about children’s books at Chicken Spaghetti.

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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