I was looking in the mirror early one morning and noticed these little groovy lines in my skin jutting out like rays from the outside corner of my eyes.“Crows feet,” some people call them. I recalled my mom telling me about them when I was a boy. The memory brought a smile to my face, and that’s when I noticed what caused these wrinkles. Years of grinning and laughing had worn indelible lines into my face. I knew then that I had a choice to make: I could try to stop smiling forever so I wouldn’t make the wrinkles deeper, or I could simply embrace them and rejoice at why I had them in the first place. Anyone who has seen me since that day can tell you which direction I chose.
A new discovery
I pondered my new discovery all day. Weeks went by, and I still had not forgotten. I finally put the words to paper one day during a poetry unit that I was helping teach to a class of fourth graders. We had been studying the craft of various “mentor” poets (Naomi Shihab Nye, Langston Hughes, and Eloise Greenfield). Part of the process was for students to write some poetry of their own each day. The poetry that these students wrote was amazing. Some were sad, some were beautiful, and some made me laugh out loud. That’s when I thought about those wrinkles again and started writing.
If your children have never written poetry, I highly encourage them to do so. They don’t have to share their poems with anyone. The purpose is to discover what it feels like to see the world through a poet’s eye. So many times, we write like scientists—just the facts. There’s nothing wrong with this, if matter-of-fact documentation is our intent. What poetry does, among many things, is develop a student’s ability to “show” instead of “tell.” In other words, using vivid language to describe a scene can be much more effective in helping a reader visualize what an author is trying to say.
Practicing strategies of poetry also builds up a child’s confidence in writing. The point of writing in a journal at home is to start taking risks. Some attempts are good; some attempts might crash and burn. That’s okay. Writing works that way. Your child will learn from practicing, and it’ll also help him/her with writing in other genres.
I’m no Robert Frost, but I can vouch for the effects that poetry can have on expression. A poem doesn’t have to rhyme, it doesn’t have to have meter—it doesn’t even have to make sense to anyone but the author. That may be one of the best characteristics of poetry—there aren’t a lot of rules, if any at all. Heck, you don’t even have to use capitals and punctuation if you don’t want to. How cool is that? As a teacher of writing, I challenge kids to give poetry a try. Read some; write some. Your children may be pleasantly surprised by what they discover in themselves.
Jim Keen is a freelance writer and life-long Ann Arborite. He lives with his wife, Bonnie, and daughters, Gabbi (14) and Molly (11). He is the author of Inside Intermarriage: A Christian Partner’s Perspective on Raising a Jewish Family (URJ Press). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.