By Gerry Hendershot
Some members of my church, the Church of the Pilgrims (PCUSA), profess a profound dislike of poetry. Not surprising for those generations whose first—and often last—encounter with poetry was in a 10th grade English class whose teacher taught, badly, the poems of Dead White Poets.
How refreshing it was to learn that my grandson was learning to write original poetry in Mrs. Warner's 4th Grade Classroom! Not only that, his teachers organized a poetry reading for the students at the Shirlington Busboys and Poets!
The room was filled to overflowing with proud parents, siblings, grandparents, and friends, as the students spoke their poems (learned by heart) with accompanying gestures before the open mike, and were rewarded with cheers and applause.
Here's a video of grandson Mike rehearsing his performance. In the super-imposed text I've retained his own original syntax, spelling, and lineation. Great poetry? I think so--but maybe not. Filled with joyful word play? Definitely.
Mike may never again write a poem, but he will forever be open to the possibility that poetry can enrich his experience of life. What can we learn from Mike and Mrs. Warner? Jesus said it best: ‘Let the little children come to me . . . for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.'
Many of us older folk need to unlearn what we learned about poetry in the past. In this regard, Billy Collins' poem, "Introduction to Poetry" is instructive. The text is below and you can hear Collins reading it here.
Introduction to Poetry
BY BILLY COLLINS
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
If you'd like to read more about "How to Read a Poem," Tania Runyon-- click here—has compiled a delightful little manual-cum-anthology of that title based on Collins' poem.