About as far back as I can remember, my mom read to me, and the first thing I remember her reading was a book of children’s poetry. Included were the commonplace nursery rhymes many of us know but others featured the lives of assorted other kings and commoners alike, some who lived in exotic locations such as China (as did Dahling Dahlinka Dinah). The illustrations were large and colorful, and the rhythm and rhymes were fun to listen to. Most of all, I remember the enthusiasm and sheer joy in my mom’s voice and facial expressions as she shared these gems with me.
Over time, my mom promoted me to the big leagues and when I was about eight years old she subjected me to Coleridge’s “The Ancient Mariner.” I admit it now but never let on then that I was a bit underwhelmed with this piece. The significance of the albatross thing had to be explained to me in minute detail and even then the situation seemed a bit bizarre. The “water, water, every where” verse was particularly pointed out as having significance, although, again, I had to ask why they couldn’t just drink the water.
Wilde’s “Ballad of Reading Gaol” was equally as baffling. Finding out that “gay ole” was actually “jail” was an eye opener, though not as much so as the notion that “each man kills the thing he loves.” How does that remotely make any sense? My eyes glazed over during that enthralled explanation. Furthermore, even at that age I recognized that this poem is at least 70 stanzas too long.
My mom had more success with Poe’s “The Raven.” Now that was a cool poem! It had a simple scary story with a menacing talking bird; perfectly understandable.
In all of these cases, my mother took the opportunity to teach me how to read poetry, which we always did out loud, letting me know that I didn’t have to pause at the end of each line to emphasize the rhyme.
When I was around 10 or 11, my mom allowed me to read “the me nobody knows,” a collection of poems we had on our bookshelf written by children who lived in inner cities across the US. The language and situations were raw and unflinching. Reading this book showed me that poetry can be relevant to real people’s everyday lives.
My mom never made anything I wanted to read off limits to me, regardless of subject matter. This may seem risky as a child-rearing tactic but her leniency in this area is something I have always appreciated. From the beginning, reading was the one area in my life for which there were no boundaries–still a handy lesson to remember now that I am a writer and a poet myself.
© Sweepy Jean and Sweepy Jean Explores the (Webby) World, 2012.