Five Things I’ve Learned About Children’s Poetry

Five Things I’ve Learned About Children’s Poetry

By Steven Withrow

I realized recently that I’ve been studying poetry for children, in one form or another, more than half my life—and I’ve been surrounded by the stuff since birth. I’ve read every book or piece I could find on the subject, and I’ve explored thousands of poems from at least five continents. Apart from what I’ve gleaned from my own reading and writing, I’ve also spoken at length with hundreds of others—grown-ups and kids—who have a stake in children’s poetry. From that concatenation of experiences, I’ve learned a great many lessons—sometimes clarifying, often contradictory—and in the interest of generating reflection and discussion, I thought I’d share with you a mere five.

  1. Children’s Poetry is ancient and global and ever-evolving. It has its own distinct tradition at the confluence of the histories of Children’s Literature and Poetry-as-a-Whole. It’s a damned big subject, and an essential one.
  2. Far from being peripheral to Children’s Literature and Poetry-as-a-Whole, Children’s Poetry is, in fact, central and fundamental to both fields. In the beginning were the mother-song and the cradle rhyme.
  3. While “child” means different things to different people, kids are just one audience for Children’s Poetry. Much of it is created not only by but also for adults. True lifelong appeal.
  4. Children are the originators and modifiers (mostly anonymous) of some of the most vital poems in any language. Read Morag Styles and the Opies.
  5. A Children’s Poem—any poem—is shaped speech, a measurable and a memorable pattern. If we do not recognize a pattern of recurrence in sound or in sense then we are reading the most inert prose. That’s pretty much all I know about poetic form.

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