Cover of "The Jabberwocky"

Cover of The Jabberwocky

The wonderful poetry library in Lower Manhattan, Poets House, asked:

What were your favorite poems as a child and how do you inspire a love of poetry in your own children?

Easy.  My favorite poems as a child were “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and “The Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll.

Of course, I also enjoyed Robert Louis Stevenson’s collection, A Child’s Garden of Verses, but these two poems left the biggest impression.

In fact, the former served as a model for the first long poem I ever wrote, which thankfully doesn’t survive.  It was a rambling “epic” about my great grandfather, Nathan Lewis Burgess, a whaler who sailed out of New Bedford in the late 19th Century.

The latter was just chosen by my oldest son, Jasper, for an audition at the school play this year.  Hearing him recite “Twas brillig, and the slithy toves. Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:/ All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe,” the other night was music to my ears.

I have always tried to cultivate a love of poetry in my children.  First, with the aforementioned eldest, who once accompanied me to a reading I hosted for Ducky Magazine, which I founded with two friends.  I think Jasper must have been nine. When one of the poets on the bill was delayed by traffic, I had my son read her poems to the audience.

And we often read poems from Stevenson’s Garden, as well as The Random House Book of Poetry for Children, Mother Goose, and individual poems on special occasions around the dinner table.

My children all know their father is a poet, and I always encourage them to write their own poems.  (I still have Jasper’s collection of poems, which he prepared in a little booklet for sixth grade.)

And last May, I took my younger son, Walker, to Poets House to meet and hear one of my poetry teachers, Robert Hass.  As I wrote about earlier on this blog, Walker brought a poem to share, which Bob read aloud during the morning children’s program.

And recently, my daughter Elizabeth told her teacher that her father was a poet and volunteered me to come in to share some poetry with her class.

The keys to sharing poetry with children?  Keep it simple, make sure it rhymes, don’t try to analyze the  poems (unless they do), and show them how much you love poetry.  They will get it.

A love of poetry is a wonderful legacy to pass on.

 

 

 

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A curious thing happened to me yesterday in New York City.  Robert Hass read at Poets House and gave a program for children in the morning.  I took my six-year-old son, Walker, with me because he’s started writing poems (he’s got me beat by 3 years!) and we spent the day in the City alone together.

Bob Hass reading Walker's poem

When I told Walker we were going to see and hear one of my poetry teachers, he said, “That’s cool, because he taught you and now you’re teaching me and when I have children I’ll teach them…it’s like we’re keeping it going.”

Indeed, it felt like that when I introduced Bob to my son.  Bob has grandchildren Walker’s age and it wasn’t lost on me that there was something transpiring between our three generations.

Walker brought one of his poems to share with Bob and handed it to him in an envelope.  During the program, in which Bob was reading poems by children from his River of Words project, he pulled out Walker’s poem and asked if Walker wanted to read it.  Walker shyly declined and Bob asked for permission to read it to the audience.  Walker beamed.  (So did I.)

Bob read Walker’s poem and declared, “This is a real poem.”  We both smiled.  It was a magical moment to have a mentor appreciate the work of your son.  I was really feeling blessed that morning.

Bob and Walker

Later, after wandering around Tribeca and the wonderful riverside parks along the Hudson, Walker and I sat on the rocks behind Poets House in the newly opened South Teardrop Park and listened to Bob and his wife Brenda Hillman read their poems into the late afternoon.  What a magical day.

Here is Walker’s poem, “The Snow I’ve Been Waiting For”:

The Snow that crunches beneath my feet.

Oh the wonderful snow, snow, snow.

The snow that tastes so wonderful.

The snow, the snow, the snow.

The snow I’ve been waiting for all along,

The snow I’ve been waiting for all year.

The snow, the snow, the snow.

The Snow I’ve been waiting for.

–Walker Anderson, 6

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