Friday, November 03, 2006

Maybe I Shouldn't Try To Do Poetry Friday Posts

I rarely do Poetry Friday posts (I think this is my second one) because while I respect poetry, I don't always understand it. However, a couple of weeks ago I was in my local library, turned around, and there on a wall was a display of poetry books in honor of our new children's poet laureate. I was stunned because while children's programming is a big portion of our library's activities, over the years I can't say I've noticed a really outstanding interest there in the goings on in the kidlit world. However, we have a young children's/YA librarian now (even with both titles it's not a full-time job in my town), and she's definitely doing her job.

I picked up a copy of Mummy Took Cooking Lessons by John Ciardi. His name jumped out at me because I heard it a bit when I was in college.

Ciardi is supposed to have begun writing poetry for children to encourage his own children with their reading. I admire that. But some of the poetry in this collection drift off into nonsense that really does seem nonsensical to me. I'm not fond of nonsense poems, which are often directed at kids, and that may be part of the reason I never became much of a poetry reader. When I was in grade school I preferred narrative poems. Anyone else remember reading about Bess the landlord's daughter blowing a hole in her chest to warn the Highwayman that the law was waiting for him at her house? I've since read that that particular poem isn't very highly regarded. I have to say, though, my sixth grade self didn't have any trouble understanding what was going on in it.

The following is a poem from Mummy Took Cooking Lessons that I was able to understand. Unfortunately, it strikes me as being somewhat judgmental and instructive.

"And Now Kiddies--Captain Cuff!

Captain Cuff of the TV Rangers
Is hard on his friends and harder on strangers.
If he knows your sister and thinks she's sweet,
And you walk wrong on a one-way street
He'll shoot you once, and in the toe.
But if you're someone he doesn't know
And doesn't want to (he seldome does)
And he finds you asleep in the back of the bus
He'll empty his six-gun on your head
To wake youup to see if you're dead.

Better not answer. You might be right
And he's never wrong. And he likes to fight.
He's a law man, awe man, quick-on-the-draw man,
Do-as-I-say and a give-me-no-jaw man.
He's Captain Cuff and he's rough and tough.
At five o'clock he does his stuff,
Because you like him. And since you do,
I have a question--what's wrong with you?"

Ciardi died in 1986, and this collection was published in 1990. Though this poem is dated because it refers to a western program, the sentiments expressed sound very up-to-the-minute. There have always been adults who are unhappy with what children watch on TV. It looks to me as if there always will be. And Now Kiddies--Captain Cuff could be an ode to them.


Blogger Elzey said...

Poetry has always been about the language, especially so with children. When a kid connects with poetry it isn't because they have studied meter or find a particular turn of phrase clever, they connect with what sounds "right" to them. Nonsense appeals because for many children the adults around them use words that have no meaning to them.

I have an 8 and 10 year old in the house and the meanings they gather and assume from political conversations and TV commercials is often hilarious. It isn't hard to understand the appeal of nonsense verse in this light.

There is good Ciardi and bad Ciardi -- as there are good and bad Prelutsky, Silverstien, etc. SOmetimes I feel like I have to remove my adult thinking to "get into" children's poetry, and when I do I am occasionally surprised by the results.

What I want to know is what happens to kids that they have this love of poetry -- of the idea that language is something fun, to be played with -- that gets lost somewhere along the way. Why else are there so few adults who regualrly read poetry of any kind?

10:56 PM  
Blogger gail said...

Now that was enlightening. Perhaps I wasn't exposed to poetry early enough and missed the pleasures of just enjoying sound.

Kids may get turned off from reading poetry because of being forced to search for meaning. My young relatives tell me I often destroy books and even TV for them by analyzing stories and programs.

11:29 AM  
Anonymous Marinela said...

"When a kid connects with poetry it isn't because they have studied meter or find a particular turn of phrase clever, they connect with what sounds "right" to them".

This is so true Elzay!

10:09 AM  

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