Essay on Children's Poetry

Thank Goodness It’s (Poetry) Friday

It’s an online literary happy hour, without the drinks.
Introduction
Every Friday, bloggers in the kidlitosphere enthusiastically offer up their favorite poems for kids. Susan Thomsen takes a tour through this billowing online community.

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.

Essay on Children's Poetry

Thank Goodness It’s (Poetry) Friday

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

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