Why Poetry is Important
As a parent you can probably remember a number of poems learnt when you were at school – everything from a playground ditty to a long ballad telling an exciting or sad story. Have you ever considered why your teachers insisted you learn poems and why it is important for our children today to be acquainted with poetry as readers, reciters and writers?
Poetry is one of the world’s ancient forms of human communication and was used long before words were ever recorded in written form. Poetry has played an important part in the oral traditions of every race and it was often through poetry that important cultural knowledge was handed from generation to generation.
All children can engage with poems actively and enjoyably regardless of their academic achievements and abilities. Engaging your children with poetry makes an essential contribution to the development of their literacy skills and learning about language. Poetry can:
- encourage a child’s love of reading
- improve children’s reading skills as they recognise sound and letter patterns in the ‘literacy devices’ used by poets as they wrote their poems (see below)
- develop simple and more complex comprehension skills as children often have to ‘read between the lines’ or ‘outside of the words’ to gain a full understanding of what the poet is trying to say
- develop and enhance their speaking and listening skills as they learn to recite poems and listen to others’ recitations
- increase their confidence as writers as they can use poems as models on which to base their own writing
- provide children with deep experiences that are rich in imagination and the use of their senses
- build children’s self-esteem and self-confidence as they see themselves as readers, writers and speakers
To understand poetry children need to recognise that is different to writing prose and has some distinctive characteristics of its own. While creative people such as an artist, a sculptor or a musical composer may call on a number of different tools to create a masterpiece, any author, including poets, can work with only words, but it is what the poet does with the words he or she chooses that creates the wonder of poetry. Words are selected for a range of purposes, then combined and manipulated to create in written form the telling of a story, or some sensory experience or emotion – to describe what is seen, heard, touched, tasted, or experienced in the heart and mind.
Authors have at their disposal dozens of ‘literary devices’, which they use to good effect as their tools of trade in composing poetry. When reading poetry to or with your children you can draw their attention to these. The most common of these devices are:
- Rhyme – most children are probably very familiar with rhyming verse which involves the repetition of the final sound in a word
On the telephone wires a top knot sits high
As the sun sinks away to the west
While a distant crow calls in the evening sky
It is time for Australia to rest.
Rhyme is usually present in children’s first experiences of poetry, such as nursery rhymes.
- Rhythm – is the sound pattern or the ‘beat’ of a poem made by varying the stressed and unstressed syllables in words. Young children can automatically demonstrate a ‘sing-song’ effect when reading their earliest poems or nursery rhymes. The above verse (from Late Summer Sunset by Shirley Fuller) can be recited to a ¾ (waltz) time as its rhythm
- Alliteration – involves the repetition of consonant sounds in several words that are close to each other eg rambling round the rugged rocks beside the rippling rill
- Assonance – involves the repetition of vowel sounds rather than consonants
eg I light a fire and watch the flames rise higher.
Assonance is closely related to rhyme and is sometimes used by a poet in conjunction with alliteration to achieve sound patterns and meaning.
- Onomatopoeia – involves using words that sound like what they are describing eg the hiss of a steam engine; the roar of a lion; the thump as he fell onto the floor; the crash of the broken plates
- Simile – involves the comparison of two things using the words ‘like’ or ‘as’
eg Her touch was as light as a feather. Her hair shone like gold
- Metaphor – involves stating that one thing is another
eg Her heart is a stone. He is my rock.
- Personification – involves giving human characteristics to natural phenomena (eg the wind spoke, shouted and whistled) or abstract idea (eg hate eats my heart )
- Symbolism - involves a word or image signifying something other than what it means in a literal sense.
eg The sun is often used as a symbol of light and warmth
Colours are frequently used as symbols in various cultures in visual images and in the mental images created in poetry:
BLUE - peace, tranquillity, truth, dignity, power, melancholy, coolness, heaviness. Regarded as being therapeutic.
YELLOW - happiness, cheerfulness. Can denote caution, decay, and sickness.
RED - warmth, urgency, passion, heat, blood, excitement, danger and hostility. Used as an accent colour, it can promote expectations and quick decision-making.
GREEN - growth, fertility, health, cheerfulness, vegetation, money. Signifies life, new growth, energy and faith.
GREY - cool detachment, bleakness, and lack of intensity.
PURPLE - wealth, royalty, sophistication, intelligence. Also the colour of passion and love.
BLACK - death, rebellion, strength and evil. Associated with the supernatural, it can also suggest inner strength and determination, as well as power and formality.
WHITE - purity, chastity and cleanliness.
BLACK AND WHITE – nostalgia, seriousness, truth, detachment.
BROWN - credibility, stability, and neutrality.
ORANGE - warmth, strength of personality. Associated with autumn, it also has broad appeal.”
(Reference: An Introduction to the Grammar of Visual Design- Curriculum Support NSW Department of Education and Communities. 2002 Secondary English LIG. Read the whole document at http://www.curriculumsupport.education.nsw.gov.au/secondary/english/resources/index.htm
Scroll down to the link to the document title)
There are dozens of literacy devices and a full list of them and their definitions with examples can be found at http://literarydevices.net/
There is also a visual aspect to poetry known as ‘shape’. The lines can be of the same or varying lengths and usually do not fill the width of a page.
Above all, engaging with poetry with your children is about ENJOYMENT.