Friday, April 5, 2013

"I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart. I am. I am. I am."

Those words, of course, come to us from Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. It was the prompts for the Poetry Project this month that brought these words to my mind. Don't ask me why. The connections in there are mysterious and elusive.

This month the Project asks us to consider:

What would have made me appreciate poetry more when I was younger? 
How would I raise a poetry reader?

When I was young, I looooooooved reading. But I didn't discover poetry until middle school. Even then, I didn't care for most of what we studied in school. (Some of it I still don't care for, and I think it may be specifically because I did study it in school.) 

We studied 'classic' poetry and were told how wonderful it was. It goes without saying that we were expected to love it whether we understood it or not, and most of us didn't. (understand it or love it)  We were told the exact meaning of each piece. (no room for interpretation) Each reading was for a specific purpose. (never for pleasure) And we were never made aware that there were many more choices either: poets, poems, subjects, styles . . .

As my middle school days were winding down, an English teacher encouraged me to write poetry. In doing this she changed poetry from something that was outside of myself and distant, to something that flourished on the inside. I never looked back.

I raised three avid readers; but although I love poetry and am constantly on the hunt for new (to me) poets and their offerings, none of my spawn really care much for poetry. 

What can I say? I tried my best. 

Ours was a house full of books, where reading was just what everyone did. I never had to force my kids to read. Because they saw it all the time, they internalized that it was just a normal part of life. For two of them, this was in spite of learning disabilities. (all bragging aside) 

We read together. I found as much 'child friendly poetry as I could for them, and I shared the pieces that moved or amused me. I also encourage them to explore their own creativity. All to no avail. As much as they all love reading, they're just not into poetry.

So, to recap ... While raising my own children, I avoided all the things that I believed turned me away from poetry when I was young so that I could encourage the love of poetry in them. 

And I found . . . that it made no difference. 

My highly scientific conclusion is that although we can foster an openness to great writing, we can't foment a love for any particular genre, writer, or piece. 

However, every bit of imagination and creativity that we feed our children nurtures their very being. When we plant such seeds, the gardens that grow can't help but be wondrous! 


Eric G. Wilson has some ideas on fostering the love of poetry in young people in Poetry Makes You Weird. He shares with his students what the poetry says to him, how it has opened his eyes.

But I now no longer unleash the literary giants. I simply tell my disgruntled students about the first time I read, as an undergraduate, these lines:

There's a certain Slant of light,

Winter Afternoons—

That oppresses, like the Heft

Of Cathedral Tunes—

I had often witnessed beams of dull December light with a melancholy I didn't understand. Dickinson's flash clarified my feelings: In the impoverished glow of the cold time were heavy reminders of brightness I desired but couldn't possess. But this affliction had fever, intimations of future heat that was luminous, like hymns.

Dickinson's verse spelled out the abstruse, made the strange familiar. In this new intimacy, however, was a novel astonishment: The chilly light from that day onward exposed the enigmas of longing, both tormenting and radiant. Her poetry left me amazed—caught in wonderment as well as labyrinth.

And that brings us back around to Sylvia Plath:  

"I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart. I am. I am. I am."


  1. Oh my goodness, how I love this post!!! Though I must admit to be a bit envious that you raised three avid readers. Our house sounds much like yours--it's full to the brim with books of all sorts, my husband and I are devoted readers, we've always read to all our kids and still do though they're all in double-digit ages...and yet we've got one avid reader, one feast-or-famine reader (he'll devour a series of books in just days and then not want to read another thing for weeks), and one who acts as if reading is the most boring thing he could possibly do with his time (though he will happily have someone else read to him at any time).

    "However, every bit of imagination and creativity that we feed our children nurtures their very being. When we plant such seeds, the gardens that grow can't help but be wondrous!"<--Beautiful!

    1. Thank you so much. :)

      One of the best things about being a gardener is seeing all the beauty that has reseeded itself come spring. It always grows in unexpected ways, and sometimes it's truly surprising how many seeds have actually taken root. I'm now watching my grandchildren grow up in a home where reading is just a natural part of life, and it is wonderful. I look forward to watching my garden evolve through the years.

      (Sorry. It's spring, and I'm in full on garden mode)