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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