Poetry can be a tricky subject for some of us, but it doesn’t have to be. I’ve always loved poetry as the ultimate expression of language, but not everyone feels that way. My beautiful husband would probably rather poke out his eye than read a book of poems. And that’s cool; he has a poetic soul, I just don’t point it out to him.
If you feel like he does and wish this was the one subject you could pawn off on a public school or tutor, take a breath.
I’m going to tell you how to teach your littles to read poetry. And it starts with a song.
Because we all love music of some kind. Personally, I listen to everything. Ev. ery. thing. Classical. Thrash Metal. Rock. Punk. Hip hop. Folk. Rap. Country. R&B. Even a little pop. If it has music and beautiful lyrics, I’m down. And I really love it when a couple of geniuses get together in a duet that combines 2 genres. Because yeah yeah. Right now I’m going through more a country phase. I switch out from time to time. One of my all-time favorites is Tom Waits, and he pretty much defies genre. Because lyrics.
Your littles may not realize that the songs they love are basically poetry, but that’s exactly what they are. So pick a song and have your littles read it using the following steps. For my example, I’m going to use You’ll Think of Me by Keith Urbarn. Because 1) you may have heard it since it’s older and so popular and 2) I’m a huge Keith Urban fan. For many reasons. (wink)
Step 1: Feelin’ it
Don’t begin by explaining the song or even trying to figure out what it’s about. Here’s the first verse and chorus of the example song.
You’ll Think of Me
I woke up early this morning around 4am
With the moon shining bright as headlights on the interstate
I pulled the covers over my head and tried to catch some sleep
But thoughts of us kept keeping me awake
Ever since you found yourself in someone else’s arms
I’ve been tryin’ my best to get along
But that’s OK
There’s nothing left to say, but
Take your records, take your freedom
Take your memories, I don’t need ’em
Take your space and take your reasons
But you’ll think of me
And take your cap and leave my sweater
‘Cause we have nothing left to weather
In fact I’ll feel a whole lot better
But you’ll think of me, you’ll think of me
Rather than discussing what the song is about, talk about how it makes each of you feel on the whole. Is it a happy song? Angry? Sad?
The biggest point of poetry is to evoke some kind of emotion. The same is true of songs. This one is a bit melancholy and there are clues to that in the language.
Step 2: Line by line
Now that you have an overall feeling for the song, take it line by line. Discuss how each line makes you feel and why. For example, the first line, I woke up early this morning around 4am, makes the listener think of definite feelings: sleepiness and anxiety and all the things that make us wake up in the dark of night.
The second line does the same with some intriguing imagery–and imagery is one of the main components of poetry. The poet is drawing you a picture with words. This line is easy to imagine: With the moon shining bright as headlights on the interstate.
Tell your littles to think about driving down the interstate late at night and how bright the headlights around them seem. Then have them think about how hard it would be to sleep if the moon was shining that brightly into their bedrooms.
Ask your littles if they have ever experienced anything like what is happening in the line. I pulled the covers over my head and tried to catch some sleep. They may have done the very same thing in fear or excitement over a coming holiday or anxiety over an upcoming project. Remind them that what makes poetry (and song lyrics) so popular is that it tends to be about the human experience and often contains topics to which most of us can relate.
You can take the song apart like that line by line until suddenly even the things that made no sense on the first read-through are clear. (I promise it works, even on poetry.)
Step 3: Find the meaning
Poems often mean different things to different people, just like songs do. The feelings and memories the words evoke are different for everybody, depending on their own experiences. Now that your littles have a clearer understanding of the individual lines of the song, it’s time to talk about the meaning. But don’t tell them the meaning. Ask them what it means to them. What is the singer saying overall? That is your song’s theme, and it will probably be similar for everybody, but one or two of your littles may surprise you with a different interpretation of the song.
Figuring out the meaning of the song (or poem) involves inference, or reading between the lines. Songs tend to be a little more straightforward than poetry, so I’m not going to lie and tell you they aren’t easier to figure out. But if you start your littles out by reading their favorite song lyrics and move on to poetry from there, you can graduate from Silverstein to Keats in no time.
And everybody should know a little Keats.