By Sandra Cook

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Because April is Poetry Month, Reading Teacher‘s April issue featured poetry, describing it as the “perfect text” for struggling readers and listing the characteristics that make poetry “perfect.”

.Short
.Fun to read
.Rhythmical (predictable)
.Rhyming (word families that reinforce phonics)
.Interdisciplinary (all subjects)
.Performed for audience

The same article in Reading Teacher lists several well-known poets whose work appeals to struggling readers. The list includes Brod Bagert, Eloise Greenfield, Jack Prelutsky, Shel Silverstein, and Jane Yolen.

Brod Bagert led the Poetry Olio at The International Reading Association’s convention in San Antonio. Teachers and other researchers shared poems and spoke of intervention and remedial summer programs that used poetry to improve reading comprehension. According to the speakers, their poetry programs engaged students and improved scores!

N.C. poet, SJ Barry, author of Poet Tree, spoke at a recent meeting of the Triangle Reading Council. She spoke of her work with children and the appeal of poetry:

Ode to Joyce
I think that I shall never see
A tree as lovely as a poem.
But words, like birds, must have a home.
I’ll call my verses “Poet Tree.”

Poems celebrate connections — between words and meanings, rhyme and rhythm, speaker and listener, poet and …poet, no matter their ages and stages. Remember the music of poetry from childhood; recall the Mother Goose and Dr. Seuss stories, jump-rope and counting rhymes, the year-book verses, the popular song lyrics, the high school cheers, and the activism creeds.

All of us are programmed for poetry and music. Neurologist Oliver Sachs cites research that shows we have twice as much circuitry in our brains for music, than we do for language. Poetry, the music of words, reaches us in ways the essay and the novel cannot. It is close, compelling, accessible, personal and evocative, all in just a few short lines. And beyond all that, it is fun to create!

SJ Barry sums up her view of poetry:

Do Words Have Wings?
Though poets say that words have wings,
I’ve never seen them fly.
They’re always tied to page or screen
And not up in the sky.

Perhaps the poets mean that words
Have life and power and song.
If that’s the case, then I agree
And won’t say that they’re wrong.

For I’ve constructed many poems,
Just started them from scratch.
And never worried if, at first,
I had no rhyming match.

For if you play around with words,
They fly into your head.
I guess that’s what those poets mean!
I take back what I said.

WORDS DO HAVE WINGS!

When students send me thank you letters, I hug those comments. A recent one said: ” I loved your poems. They made me laugh. I think I want to be a poet!” What’s more reaffirming than that!?

Sing your own words. Rap isn’t the only rhyming medium. We’re programmed for poetry. Write On!

FYI-SJ Barry says her research proves that 90% of children are “at risk.”

Sources include the April edition of Reading Teacher, the Poetry Olio at the IRA convention, and author SJ Barry, author of Poet Tree. Reach SJ Barry by email: writer.sjbarry@gmail.com

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