Friday surprise: Music Made Of Words


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This blog post started out as something for our younger readers and writers. But then I had a conversation with my “DS” (darling son), while we were sitting at the kitchen table having a snack.

Me [ina]: I’m kind of freaking out trying to write a blog post for the kids who read In Our Books. I don’t remember what it’s like to be a kid. I don’t even remember how I learned about poetry. I don’t remember anything these days! I hate getting old! Argh!

DS [looking toward ceiling]: Hm. You don’t remember what it’s like.

Me: I don’t. And I don’t even know how to introduce people to poetry. I mean, what is  a poem? Argh!

DS : You want to be helpful. [closes eyes and hums thoughtfully for several moments] Kids like what grown ups like [wanders to the sink to get a glass of water]. By the way, Mommy, a poem is just music made of words.

So now, this is  not a post for kids. This is  a post for everyone.

Calliope, the wonderful operonicon or steam car of the muses, advertising poster, 1874Every place and culture has music. Different people like different kinds of music; some people make music, others listen to it. Like poems – they are everywhere, and each of us hears them differently.

Some poems, like some music, have constant, repeated “meter” and “rhyme.” The meter is the rhythm of the poetry; rhymes are words that sound the same. Many poems in English have a repeated, steady rhythm:

de DUM de DUM de DUM de DUM//
de DUM de DUM de DUM de DUM

Kenyan dancers

These poems sometimes have end-rhymes at the end of lines. End-rhymes are when later parts of the words sound the same. Those same-sounding words come at the ends of lines. For example:

The cow is of the bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other, milk.

[by Ogden Nash, “The Cow,” Free Wheeling, 1931]
If this is a kind of poetry you like, there are many poets who wrote poems like this:

  • Jack Prelutsky (he writes lots of books of poems, but one of my favorites is My Dog May Be A Genius)
  • Shel Silverstein (many people love Where The Sidewalk Ends)
  • For more old-fashioned poems (though with a lower silliness quotient), the author of Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson, wrote the first set of poems I happened to memorize as a child myself, A Child’s Garden of Verses
  • Spot, our Bustopher Jones

    Spot, our Bustopher Jones

    My DS’s favorite book of poems is by a poet who wrote almost nothing for children. TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is so well-loved that it has been made into a musical play called “Cats.” One of my favorite poems is about a cat named Bustopher Jones, mostly because we have a cat just like him

There are other poets who wrote rhymed and metered poems for kids but who are loved by people of all ages; look for Dr. Seuss, Charlotte Zolotow, Spike Milligan, Roald Dahl, Rudyard Kipling.

Hamakoi Dance Festival 2009 at the Yokohama Sogo department storeSome poems are more “free-form” – people call this “less structured.” Many poems “for adults” and many poems written by poets who usually write for adults are poems that just need a listening ear – whether that ear is young or old, big or small, for the flow of the song to become obvious.

Some places to start might be:

    • The great American poet William Carlos Williams, who was also a doctor and wrote many of his best poems on the pads in which he could give medicine prescriptions for his patients. A favorite: The Red Wheelbarrow. When you read this, how does it sound? What does it remind you of? How does it make you feel inside?
    • Valerie Worth’s Animal Poems are for everyone. She writes about little things like crickets in a way that makes us understand how big those little things are
    • Ted Hughes was known as a poet for adults, but he did write many poems for children which have been made into a book, Collected Poems for Children

Here’s another lovely poem by Hughes:

If you’d like to try reading several different poets, to find out what sorts of poems you like, there are some wonderful English-language collections to try:

800px-Childart11Slovakia5Why am I spending so much time talking about poems to read? Perhaps it is because I learned to write – to find my own songs – by reading the songs of others. But I will stop here, and I hope that all our fellow writers, young and old, will tell us : what poems would you want to share with other writers? which poets would you recommend for people starting out their poem-ing life?

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24 thoughts on “Friday surprise: Music Made Of Words

  1. I so enjoyed this post! One of my first connections to poetry was found in A Child’s Garden of Verse.
    When I taught about poetry, I often linked to it with song lyrics with current musicians. Teaching History gave a chance to link with bards of the times–Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Dylan, Pete Seeger and so many more.
    So glad your DS shared his thoughts!!!

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it! It’s interesting that you used song lyrics – my AP English teacher used to have us analyze the Beatles’ lyrics, too. At the time, I thought it was odd, but now I understand it. How lucky your students are to have a teacher who makes these connections!

  2. Pingback: Today is Ina’s birthday | in our books

    • Hi Mariya – I am such a lucky mother – he’s such a cheerful otherworldly little elf and I feel so lucky to hear from his perspective:)

    • Thank you Pamela! Yes, I am very lucky, and I remind myself of that whenever he starts deciding that it would be fun to use peanut butter as paint to “see what happens” 🙂

  3. Wonderful post, Ina. We tend not to remember that song lyrics are poetry in one form or another, and yet all societies have their songs and their music. Great lesson. Loved it.

    Hope you had a terrific celebration for your annual Achievement Day.

    • Thank you, Claudsy!It is funny how people find poetry “inaccessible” and yet it’s around us all the time. We actually started reading poetry to K. because he likes music so much, so it may be time for us to let him hear some more grown up music so he can parse the words – suggestions?

      • You’re welcome, Ina. Josh Groban has both beautiful music and words. I don’t know that you’ll want to use the foreign language ones, but then again, they are beautiful. Celtic Women and Celtic Thunder both have wonderful music and lyrics. Of contemporary music, you’ll have to find someone else for additional suggestions. I’m not particularly fond of much of the new music so couldn’t really recommend others. I tend toward instrumentals, as a rule.

    • Thank you, Michelle !! 🙂 I will pass this onto K. – he’s so often not confident about what he thinks and says, and yet, he says these amazing things 🙂 Thanks for the suggestion, btw, of Dr. Seuss – how could I have left him out??!? Any particular faves from him? (mine might be one fish two fish because “Clark” is exactly the sort of pet my brother and I would have brought home !)

  4. Ina – this is one of the most wonderful posts/lessons I have ever read! Wonderful music and yes your little DS is quite a little spot of sunshine. What a joy to ‘listen’ to your conversation. You also mentioned two of my all time favorites – Jack Prelutsky’s My Dog May Be a Genius and RLS’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. My other favorite would have to be Dr. Seuss! Thanks again for sharing this insightful post.

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