Recognizing the Poignancy of Children’s Poetry after Childhood

Though I am a literature major I can quite honestly say that I am not a fan of poetry in general. Which is not to say that I hate it all or that I don’t recognize its merit in the literary canon, but poetry has never been something I pursued by choice in my studies or leisure time. I am a fan of prose. However, this was not always the case. There was a time in my youth when I, like many young children, fed my addiction to reading with the poetic (what I then thought was) silliness of Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein. I absolutely loved Seuss’s ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ and stayed up long past my bedtime to read “just one more poem” in Silverstein’s ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’. It had been a very long time since I had revisited either of these iconic poets who were so beloved to me as a child but the recent articles regarding both poets on Buzzfeed (my very favorite source of time-wasting internet usage) had me going back to my shelves dedicated to my childhood favorites and I was struck by how much more substance there was to the works of these poets than just the silly, easy-to-read rhymes. Silverstein’s ‘The Giving Tree’ had me rocking back and forth on my bed, ugly crying, and asking why people can’t just be good to each other and Seuss’s ‘The Lorax’ sent me into a recycling frenzy as I contemplated why people can’t just be good to the world around them. I never remembered sobbing over these books as a child. I remembered giggling at the nonsense of the Cat in the Hat and the ridiculous stupidity of the king who ate so much peanut butter his mouth was cemented shut and all of his subjects couldn’t prize it open despite their extreme efforts.

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These things still make me giggle, but I have come to realize that Silverstein and Seuss did not simply write children’s books and children’s poetry. They wrote stories and rhymes that age and grow in complexity with us, that have newer and deeper meanings with each passing year. Suess’s One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish addresses the many fascinating and distinct differences between us all and how our oddities and quirks make us memorable and lovable and unique. It is a series of goofy little rhymes that teach inclusiveness to us from the time that we are too small to recognize what we are being taught and brings us back later when when can perceive its meaning. Every book we read is different each time we read it. By virtue of the changing world around us, our perceptions, emotions, and thoughts must change in order to adapt, but these particular authors seem to have written poems and stories that are children when we are children and that grow up just as we do only to be reincarnated as children again as we pass them on to the next generation. There is something magnificent in being at once washed in the nostalgic giddiness of childhood and the grudgingly amused angst of a teen or the weighty understanding of adulthood.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, go back to these every once in a while. Read a poem or two or a page or two, just to remind yourself of how simple it and you once were and how complex you both became. And recognize the genius that could make something at once wildly entertaining and deeply thought-provoking, the genius that created literature that lived alongside us, just waiting for us to come back and draw from its never-ending generosity, much like Silverstein’s Giving Tree. I suppose I lied at the beginning of this post. I am and always will be a fan of poetry.

Recommendation for the week: take a guess… anything Silverstein or Seuss, of course! Happy reading!

 

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