What is poetry?


I love this quote from the book Emily (about Emily Dickinson) by Michael Bedard.  In this tender children’s book, Emily befriends a neighbor child who asks her father, “What is poetry?”  This is his poignant reply:

” ‘Listen to Mother play.  She practices and practices a piece, and sometimes a magic happens and it seems the music starts to breathe.  It sends a shiver through you.  You can’t explain it, really; it’s a mystery.  Well, when words do that, we call it poetry.'”

On another occasion, a peer-educator was working with a young writer (elementary age).  She noticed that he’d stopped “working” and was sitting, staring blankly into space.  When she inquired as to what he might be thinking or whether he needed help he said, “No.  I’ve got the words.  I’m just trying to get the music in them.”

Another artist, metal-sculptress, friend of mine was once asked how long it takes to create her pieces of art.  She thought for a minute then replied, “Depends on whether you want me to count the staring.”

I so get this need for creative space, this kind of allowing something new, something that has never before existed in the yet to be manifested form to be born.  It requires a deep listening and long, fertile pauses.

In our culture of fast food, instant messaging, multimedia, and multitasking this kind of “being still to listen” is a skill that must be taught and nurtured.  And please do not make the mistake that children will learn this in school.  School is the anti-thesis to stillness.  Period.

So for today’s prompt, I offer this suggestion:  take your child by the hand; set down the phone; shut down the computers (yes, the Mobigo too); turn off the radio and the television; go outside (away from the noise); stop.  Touch the bark of the elm; smell the river; stick your toes in the mud; name the clouds; mimic the bird calls; lie down on the grass and try to feel the earth spin.

Bring blank (I repeat BLANK not lined) paper and a pencil and some chalk pastel pencils or colored pencils with you.  Record what you notice:  draw an image or use lines and colors only (NO, we are not using the cell phone to record a photograph; we are drawing).  Now write (adults can act as scribe for younger writers), either on the image or on another sheet.  Use sensory words and strong action words to show us what you’ve seen, felt, heard, and smelled.

Now comment on this post with your work! I’d love to see it.

from:  Young Writer’s Idea Box, © D. Ellis Phelps (work in progress), 2013.

You may use and distribute this page for educational purposes with the above reference.

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