Reading, Writing, and Reciting Poetry: Bringing Back Lost Arts!

Published with Permission

Written by Maggie S. Hogan

Yes, your family can enjoy reading, writing, and reciting poetry. If you take the time to follow the suggestions in this article, you may find that poetry can become a glue that helps bind your family together. Really! Consider this: Funny poems will get the family laughing, thoughtful ones provide conversation starters, and Godly ones can unite a family in praise. Granted, not all children or teens are going to jump at the chance to sit down and recite poetry with Mom, Dad, and little brother, but persevere! Years later, grown siblings will look back and share laughs about poetry time . . . as they carefully preserve this tradition in their own families. Let’s look at the “whys” and the “hows” of cultivating this tradition in your family.

Why Memorize Poetry?

Memorizing or “learning by heart” was an important educational element for most of history until the mid twentieth century when misguided educators decided that rote learning somehow dampened creativity and learning. On the contrary, the benefits to memorizing are numerous. Let’s look at memorizing poetry specifically. Poetry has a rhythm, a sound, a music to it that gives us a gift of language awareness that we may otherwise miss. It heightens our sensitivity, our “feel” of language. Interplay of melody and music occurs—a combination of language and sound that broadens our experience with language. Our English improves as we absorb the natural rhyme and rhythm of a variety of well-written poems. Note: This language exposure is especially important for children from low-literacy homes and those for whom English is not their native tongue. Susan Wise Bauer, in The Well-Educated Mind, states that memorizing poetry “builds into children’s minds the ability to speak and write and read English. Memorizing poetry internalizes the rhythmic, beautiful patterns of the English language.”

To those who believe that memorization is a drudgery to be avoided at all cost, a sure-fire way to “kill real learning,” we need only look back at all those who have gone before us who have not only memorized masterpieces but who have created masterpieces as well. Through the memorization of poetry and other great works, St. Augustine developed a phenomenal memory and a determined attention to detail, which is reflected in his Confessions. As a young boy, Shakespeare learned (as did his peers) by memorization as well. Memorization does not dampen the desire to create; rather, it enlarges the mind by exposing it to the best of the past and frees it to build on what has already been created.

Poetry gives children a language with which to articulate their thoughts, perceptions, and feelings. It can ignite their imaginations and transport them to other times and places. There is an “Aha!” moment that comes when we recognize a truth, an experience, a description that someone else has expressed through poetic words and which expresses exactly what we have thought or felt or seen. There is a sweet comfort in knowing that someone somewhere has felt what you’ve felt and can express it in a way that is meaningful and true.

Poetry Memorization Tips 

• Write the poem you want to memorize by hand. Write the stanzas on index cards or sticky-notes. Post them in conspicuous places.

• Memorize the poem with a partner.

• Read the poem aloud into a recorder. Play it in the car, at bedtime, at mealtimes.

• Say the poem aloud several times throughout the day.

• Say the poem aloud every day.

• If the poem has a good rhythm or rhyme scheme, recite it by using your body:

—Stomp your feet

—Clap your hands

—Jump in time

—Bounce a ball in time with the words

• Draw a picture to illustrate the poem.

• Set the poem to music and sing it.

• Consistently review previously memorized material.

Why Recite Poetry?

The very best way to dig into poetry is to read it aloud. Trust me, this is important. There are exceptions; some poetry is much more visual than auditory, such as “shape” poems or works by E. E. Cummings. Most poems, though, are meant to be spoken. Here are eight simple steps to improving your recitation skills.

Poetry Recitation Tips

1. Preparedness

• Practice shows!

• Be completely prepared and well rehearsed.

• Know what the words of the poem mean.

2. Posture

• Stand up straight.

• Look relaxed and confident (even if you don’t feel that way).

3. Eye Contact

• Establish eye contact right away with the audience.

• Be sure to look at them as much as you can during the presentation.

4. Pitch

• Use your voice pitch (both high and low tones) to convey emotions as appropriate.

5. Pauses

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