The benefits of poetry in a time of uncertainty
Apr 15, 2020 03:23PM
By Katy Whittingham
Books in the “Poetry for Young People” series.
By Katy Whittingham | [email protected]
It’s never too early to introduce children to poetry and to celebrate National Poetry month this April. There are many resources available to help children reap the benefits of reading and writing poetry, including building community and advancing literacy, while still having tremendous fun while you’re at it.
Former Colorado Western Slope Poet Laureate Rosemerry Whatola Trommer, a poet, teacher, storyteller and creative consultant for her site “Word Woman,” talked about the outcomes, creative exercises, resources, and poems to help promote a child’s interest and investment in poetry even during a time of social distancing and school closures.
With many parents and caregivers now in the uncertain position of developing and supplementing school curriculum at home for a temporary time, Whatola Trommer explained that poetry can be an enjoyable way to learn and connect and, “perhaps best of all, poetry will be a way to foster creative discussions about what is happening in the world right now.”
Whatola Trommer also wants to reassure educators and parents that despite suggestions, there is no wrong way to go about it. “There is not a right way to read a poem. There are many right ways to read a poem. I would suggest that parents and kids read poems and begin a discussion by talking about what stood out about it, what phrase or word or image. And in this way, the poetry can open up larger discussions about feeling and ideas related to the poem.”
Instead of poetry workshops, Whatola Trommer leads what she calls “playshops” because they are too enjoyable to include the word “work.” She breaks down some of the benefits of exposing children to poetry as follows: “One, poetry is fun. Two, poetry is highly useful for literacy in young children (especially rhyming poems). Three, poetry can be acted out. Four, poetry can be used to supplement other classes and open up other subjects – poems about math, nature, other languages, other cultures. Five, poetry helps children access and talk about feelings. Six, poetry is fun to say aloud. Seven, poetry is fun to write.”
At an early age Whatola Trommer fell in love with children’s poet Shel Silverstein and still appreciates his poems today as they are “supremely playful, but also have dark underbellies.” She sees the value of also introducing children to some adult poets. For example, she said, “Most kids will find joy in Blake’s ‘The Tyger,’ in Dickinson’s ‘Hope,’ and in Shihab Nye’s ‘Kindness.’” She credits E.E. Cummings’ poems for first instilling in her that poetry can be both playful and still tackle difficult subjects.
Whatola Trommer has continued in this vein herself by writing such poems including her recent poem about the pandemic, “Staying Home,” which she said would be accessible for kids. The poem recognizes fears that children, and all of us, might have right now, but ends with the following lines of comfort: “They remind you who you are /invite you to look out the window/and see how beautiful the world/when the shadows are long.”
This poem and many others, including other poems about the pandemic, are available on her blog www.ahundredfallingveils.com, where Whatola Trommer continues to write poetry daily. While she can’t promise all poems will be as accessible for children, she said some will.
For more of Whatola Trommer’s poems, playshop information, prompts and other resources including creative exercises visit her website wordwoman.com.
National Poetry Month was inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 and includes participation opportunities for young people including the “Dear Poet” project. For more information visit poets.org.