Poetry News

The first ever Professor of Children's Poetry?

By Harriet Staff

Morag Styles was recently appointed Professor of Children's Poetry at the University of Cambridge and she may be the only person in the whole world with that title, which may suggest something about the status of children's poetry within the academy. In a recent essay, Styles argues that children's poetry should be taken seriously. Yes, it's often lighthearted, frequently rhyming, and may contain boob jokes (read the full article, you'll see), but it's still a subject as worthy of study and attention as its grown-up counterpart. She writes:

Why does children’s poetry matter? Children’s responses to poetry are innate, instinctive, natural – maybe it starts in the womb, with the mother’s heartbeat? Children are hard-wired to musical language – taking pleasure in the rhythm, rhyme, repetition and other patternings of language that are a marked feature of childhood. As the poet, Tony Harrison, pointed out, it’s the scansion in poetry that unites the attention. Just think how, faced with fretful babies, we rock them rhythmically, dredging up old nursery rhymes, lullabies, or chants to amuse and pacify. This is a universal phenomenon, as Iona and Peter Opie, and other scholars, have shown in their research on the oral tradition. Even when we tell young children stories, they demand exact retellings and repetitions with the same cadences, rhythms, pauses and tones they heard the time before. This early sharing of musical language is often physical, too; bumping toddlers up and down on our knees and often ending with a kiss. Early poetry is about the expression of love.

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Originally Published: October 14th, 2011