Friday, May 4, 2007

POETRY FRIDAY: Spring Is...

SPRING IS

Spring is when
the morning sputters like
bacon…

spring is when
your scrambled eggs
jump
off
the
plate
and turn into a million daffodils
trembling in the sunshine.


The Language of Poetry

Those excerpts are taken from Bobbi Katz’s Spring Is, one of my favorite poems about this season. Doesn’t Katz capture the excitement a child might feel when spring has finally arrived in all its glory and the world is warm again, and alive, and waiting to be unwrapped like a long-awaited gift?

Katz follows the lead set by Spring Is with her poems in ONCE AROUND THE SUN. For this book, she wrote twelve poems. She lists the signs she associates with each month. She begins all the poems in the same fashion as Spring Is. Here are the opening lines of her poem about April:



April is
when the earth
parades in a green so brand-new
you can almost hear it playing a tune,
turning tight buds
of forsythia bushes
into tiny yellow trumpets…


And here is how she begins her poem about May:

May is
when the sky unties
a secret song bag
early every morning,
and the birds fly out…


I love these images Katz fashions with words. They are fresh. They certainly aren’t trite or clichĂ©d.

Signs of Spring
I was an elementary teacher for many years. I still remember the ubiquitous “spring is” writing exercises we teachers often had children do in class to celebrate the arrival of spring. Often the children’s poems came out something like this:

Spring is flowers
and birds singing.
Spring is green grass
and warm weather.
Spring is when
I fly my kite.

Speaking from my experience as a classroom teacher, I can tell you that once I began sharing all kinds of poetry with my students, many of them began writing poetry with more inventive images like those found in the poems written by Bobbi Katz and with more of the elements of language characteristic of poetry. I think it’s equally important to give children ample time to carefully observe the world around them in mid-spring--to give them opportunities to really look at, study, and think about the changes in nature. They will then be more likely to write poems with more depth, poems that express their personal thoughts and feelings.


Let’s look at excerpts from some other excellent poems about spring that would be great to share with children.

The poems in John Updike’s A CHILD’S CALENDAR are filled with examples of particular sights, sounds, and smells that he associates with each month of the year. Here are two examples of similes he uses to describe two signs of spring from his poem about March.


From March

The sun is nervous
As a kite
That can’t quite keep
Its own string tight…

Pale crocuses
Poke through the ground
Like noses come
To sniff around.


Imagine comparing the spring sun to a nervous kite and crocuses to noses sniffing around.


In PIECES: A YEAR IN POEMS & QUILTS, Anna Grossnickle Hines writes poetry about all four seasons. Here are excerpts from Do You Know Green?, which is one of her poems about spring.

Green comes…
tickling the tips
of twiggy tree fingers…

poking up as tiny
slips of baby grass…

bursting out on bare
brown branches…


Look at how Hines uses personification here. In her poem, green is poking and bursting and tickling twiggy tree fingers.

One of the jobs of a poet is to be precise with language, to select just the right words to express thoughts and feelings, and to help readers picture the poet’s written images in their minds. Pointing out to students poets’ similes, metaphors, imagery, use of personification and alliteration, and selected use of words helps them to better understand the elements of language often found in poetry and helps expand their writing vocabulary and knowledge of the genre.

(I found making transparencies of poems and showing them to students on an overhead projector was a fine way to lead my students into a brief discussion of the poems.)


In A CIRCLE OF SEASONS, Myra Cohn Livingston makes wonderful use of personification to bring spring and all its wonders alive.


From A CIRCLE OF SEASONS:

Spring skips lightly on a thin crust of snow,
Pokes her fragrant fingers in the ground far below,
Searches for the sleeping seeds hiding in cracked earth,
Sticks a straw of sunshine down and whispers words to grow:

O seed
And root
Send forth a tiny shoot!



Capturing a Feeling

Some children may prefer to write about their personal feelings about spring—as Katz did in Spring Is— rather than make a list of things that come to mind when asked to write about the season.

In her poem entitled Spring, Karla Kuskin expresses the excitement a child feels when spring has arrived. Kuskin speaks in the voice of an exuberant youngster.

Her poem begins:

I’m shouting
I’m singing
I’m swinging through trees
I’m winging sky-high
With the buzzing black bees…

The poem ends…

I’m a bud
I’m a bloom
I’m a dove on the wing.
I’m running on rooftops
And welcoming spring.



And in Kuskin’s poem Spring Again, a child anticipates all the things she/he will do during this season of rebirth.

From Spring Again:

Buds on the branches
a breeze in the blue
and me without mittens
my sweater unbuttoned
a spring full of things
all before me to do.



Focusing on One Sign/Aspect of Spring

In Mud Flood, a poem in Douglas Florian’s collection HANDSPRINGS, the author talks about mud oozing on shoes and boots and pants and shirts and about the only way to get clean again—with suds. From Mud Flood

The spring rains came
And made a flood
So now there’s mud
and mud
and mud.



Lilian Moore’s Forsythia Bush is another of my favorite spring poems. In the poem Moore wrote how the forsythia…

explodes
into yellow
and
startles the street into spring.


It’s not just any poet who would think to use verbs like “explodes” and “startles” in a poem about a plant!


In Pussy Willows, Aileen Fisher speaks of rubbing Spring across the cheek of someone whose eyes are closed—Spring in this case being exemplified as “smooth as satin, soft and sleek” pussy willows.

In The Spring Wind, Charlotte Zolotow describes the spring wind as “smelling of spring and growing things/brushing the world with feathery wings.”


If you can locate a copy of Aileen Fisher’s book OUT IN THE DARK AND DAYLIGHT (Harper & Row, 1980), you will find a treasure trove of poems that focus on different signs/aspects of spring: pussy willows, mud in March, buttercups, an early bee, a robin’s song, clover, frogs, the sounds of spring, leaf buds.


Yes, share poems such as these with children and their words will implant images and rhythmic language in their minds that will serve as a poetic treasure chest for them to reach into when the time comes for them to write their own poems about spring.


Where to find the poems cited in this blog article if a book title has not been noted above:

SPRING IS by Bobbi Katz
Puddle Wonderful: Poems to Welcome Spring, selected by Bobbi Katz
The Random House Book of Poetry for Children, selected by Jack Prelutsky (page 42)
Sunflakes: Poems for Children, selected by Lilian Moore (page 54)


FORSYTHIA BUSH by Lilian Moore
I Thought I Heard the City, written by Lilian Moore
Mural on Second Avenue and Other City Poems, written by Lilian Moore

Puddle Wonderful: Poems to Welcome Spring, selected by Bobbi Katz
Something New Begins, written by Lilian Moore (page 32)


SPRING by Karla Kuskin
Dogs & Dragons, Trees & Dreams, written by Karla Kuskin (page 14)
Moon, Have You Met My Mother?: The Collected Poems of Karla Kuskin (page 112)
Puddle Wonderful: Poems to Welcome Spring, selected by Bobbi Katz
The Random House Book of Poetry for Children, selected by Jack Prelutsky (page 43)
Ring Out Wild bells: Poems about Holidays and Seasons, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins (page 25)
The 20th Century Children’s Poetry Treasury, selected by Jack Prelutsky (page 24)

SPRING AGAIN by Karla Kuskin
Dogs & Dragons, Trees & Dreams, written by Karla Kuskin (page 14)
Moon, Have You Met My Mother?: The Collected Poems of Karla Kuskin (page 111)

4 comments:

Tricia said...

Good Morning Elaine,
What a wonderful collection of poems and books you have given us. I love seasonal poetry. I haven't seen the Katz book, but am certainly going to look for it.
I hope you have a lovely spring day!
Regards,
Tricia

jules said...

What a wonderful post. Thanks!

Kelly said...

Fab-u-lous!

Elaine Magliaro said...

Tricia,

I think Katz's ONCE AROUND THE SUN is a fine book of seasonal poetry for children. I really like LeUyen Pham's illustrations in the book...and the way she uses color in her artwork.


Jules and Kelly,

Thanks. There is no better way to teach childern how to write poetry than to immerse them in the best models of the kinds of poems we would like them to write.