Today, April 30, is “Poem in your Pocket Day” as well as the last day of National Poetry Month.
I thought long and hard this morning about which poem to place in my pocket to share with everyone I see. I finally settled on one of my favorites by Shel Silverstein. It is called “Listen To The Mustn’ts,” and it is in Silverstein’s classic collection of poems, Where the Sidewalk Ends:
Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
The IMPOSSIBLES, the WON’TS
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me--
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be.
I’ll be taking this “Poem in my Pocket” to the Star of Hope Transitional Living Center this afternoon. I’ll be sharing it with a group of kids whose families are trying to get their lives back on track. I am hoping they will truly listen to this poem and realize its message is meant for them.
Why should we as parents and teachers bother with exposing our children to poetry? I have to confess that until I taught poetry to my middle school students a few years ago, I never thought much about it. I had always been a voracious reader of fiction and nonfiction but never poetry. We had a few poetry books at home that I read with my daughters when they were little, but more for the beautiful illustrations than for the language of the poetry itself. I was almost averse to reading poetry because I was so afraid of getting the meaning “wrong.”
It wasn’t until I was forced to teach the annual Poetry Unit with my 6th and 7th grade students that I came to realize how much fun poetry could be both to read and to compose. There are a great variety of poetic forms that can be explored like the 3 line Haiku with its unvarying pattern of syllables (5-7-5) but myriad examples of imagery. There are concrete poems in which visually artistic poets create amazing pictures using the words of the poem. There are narrative poems that tell exciting stories from history such as “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” And many others.
Poetry is great for shared reading because many poems are short and therefore easier for kids to read on their own or with just a little help from mom or dad. But poetry read out loud by an expert reader like a parent or grandparent (or teacher or older sibling) is magical: with the proper cadence and inflections, the meaning and imagery of a beautifully written poem becomes crystal clear to your audience.
It’s not too late to find a poem today to put in your pocket. Share it with your child and others you interact with. Experience the joy and fun of a well composed word picture. Shel Silverstein is a great place to start. His classic collections of poetry, Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic, are filled with funny poetry and accompanying illustrations guaranteed to entertain you and your kids but also make you think. And the beautiful fable The Giving Tree tackles some of our biggest moral issues in a way that opens the door for some pretty great conversations with our children.
Visit Tomfoolery Toys & Books to purchase your own copies of these three classic Silverstein works. And visit your public and school libraries for lots of other collections of poetry!