We read A LOT of poetry at school. Poems are special gifts we give each other. Lillian Moore, Valerie Worth, Shel Silverstein, Edward Lear, Basho are all familiar names – friends that delight and make us ponder.
The 21st of March was World Poetry Day and given our love of poetry, we celebrated it at school.
As any Montessori guide will tell you it’s all about the process and I am particularly glad at how the preparations for the day went.
It was so simple, child-led and has generated so much of enthusiasm.
A few days before the event, I spoke to the children about the World Poetry Day and asked each child to spend some time finding a poem they would like to share with the others.
The next morning and through the day, I saw children in 2’s and 3’s sitting in the library corner. I observed them refer to several books, read a few poems to their friends, ask their opinion and finally choose a poem for themselves.
Here are some of the poems the children chose:
Eagle a poem by the Papago Indians from Animals Animals by Eric Carle
Tiger by Valerie Worth from All The Small Poems And Fourteen More
Red by Lillian Moore from I Feel The Same Way
The Unicorn by Rainer Maria Rilke from Dragons Dragons and Other Creatures That Never Were by Eric Carle
The Nicest Pet by Charlotte Pomerantz from Halfway To Your House by Charlotte Pomerantz
Several children decided to copy write and illustrate the poems they had chosen and this spontaneously caught on with all the others. The children had added one more step to the process.
Then they committed the poem to memory. I modeled how to do it and they went to a quiet space, reading and re-reading the poem till they felt they had ‘got it’. This is when they called in a peer, who ‘took up’ the poem for them. It was interesting to hear the conversations at these times – “Oh! you forgot a line – come lets say the poem together and then you can try again” or “I do think you should say this s-l-o-w-l-y”
Once the child was sure of the poem, I invited her and a peer to the amphitheater and demonstrated how to ‘throw’ ones voice so that each person in the audience would be able to hear them. The peer sat at different points in the amphitheater and provided feedback on clarity.
After they were satisfied with the recitation, they returned to class to choose their next work.
Through this entire time, the children were independent, purposeful and enthusiastic. Not once did I have to intervene or re-direct. My only job was to provide clear guidelines and structure at each step. The 3 hour work cycle was not broken for practice sessions but rather the entire thing flowed into it like any other work chosen.
On the day, besides the children reciting their poems, some of the teachers joined in too. There was Kannada poetry as well.
While speaking with a parent shortly after World Poetry Day, I learnt that their daughter suggested that for weekend fun they memorize a poem together!
Now I’m sure some of you are asking the question “Why memorize poems at all? What is the point?”
Going by the experience that I have had with children, they delight in poetry.
I think this is step one – read a lot of good quality poetry and let a love of poetry pervade the environment.
After that memorizing a poem one loves, allows a child to experience the poem – the words enter her soul and she makes the poem, hers.
Here’s what Jim Holt wrote in The New York Times about reciting a poem from memory:
“It’s a physical feeling, and it’s a deeply pleasurable one. You can get something like it by reading the poem out loud off the page, but the sensation is far more powerful when the words come from within. (The act of reading tends to spoil physical pleasure.) It’s the difference between sight-reading a Beethoven piano sonata and playing it from memory — doing the latter, you somehow feel you come closer to channeling the composer’s emotions. And with poetry you don’t need a piano.
That’s my case for learning poetry by heart. It’s all about pleasure. And it’s a cheap pleasure. Between the covers of any decent anthology you have an entire sea to swim in.”
Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry