The following is a guest post written by Karen L. Kilcup, Professor of English, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Angela Sorby, Associate Professor of English, Marquette University. I’m very excited about this new anthology published by Johns Hopkins University Press, so I thought I’d let them tell you about it in their own words.
Who could resist a poem that opens like this:
Have Angleworms attractive homes? Do Bumble-bees have brains?
Do Caterpillars carry combs? Do Ducks dismantle drains?
Charles E. Carryl’s “Memorandrums” typifies the animated, modern spirit of our new anthology, Over the River and Through the Wood. We began our project not only because we admire the writing—its ease, its playfulness, its innovation—but also because we realized how many nineteenth-century children’s poems are still vital to Americans—parents and grandparents as well as their children. From the title poem to “Mary’s Lamb” to “’Twas the night before Christmas” (“Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas”), many of the verses in Over the River remain part of our collective consciousness, even if we can’t immediately identify the sources. I remember my own grandmother singing “Over the river and through the wood,” though she changed the second line: “To grandmother’s house we go.” Since she prepared the Thanksgiving turkey and mountains of vegetables and pies, I imagine that she felt just fine about this substitution. Our collection includes some other wonderful holiday poems, including one delicious ode to turkey dinner (Cooke’s “Turkey: A Thanksgiving Ode”) and a comic ballad from the bird’s perspective, “The Turkey’s Opinion.” Of course there’s far more to the anthology than holiday poems, but many of the most beloved, familiar pieces live in that section. Many of our poems offer major contributions to America’s literary tradition, including works by authors whom we don’t ordinarily associate with children, such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Sarah Piatt.
One children’s poem, “Mary’s Lamb” was actually the first sound recording ever made by Thomas Edison; you can listen to a scratchy, slightly later version by Edison here. Sarah Josepha Hale’s famous poem draws from a real story about a girl bringing her pet to the Redstone School, now in Sudbury, Massachusetts. You can visit the school from mid-May through mid-October.
Rudyard Kipling (December 30, 1865 – January 18, 1936) was a British writer who spent part of his life in India. He wrote many books and poems, some of which are still very popular today. Later in his life, Kipling was the first English writer to be given the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Some of Kipling’s most famous writings were about the experience of war. In his poem “Boots,” Kipling uses the same words repeatedly in a rhythm that sounds like soldiers marching. Try reading the first three lines of the poem out loud to hear the rhythm for yourself:
The winter holidays can be a fun and exciting time for both kids and adults. This year, why not integrate poetry into your family’s celebrations of the season? Add literary flair to your family’s traditions by including poems in your festivities.
Here are three simple ways to incorporate poetry into your seasonal celebrations.
Chances are, your Thanksgiving celebration usually includes a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, and perhaps a chance for each family member to say what he or she is grateful for. But this year you can add a new and fun twist to your family’s Thanksgiving tradition by giving poetry a place in the festivities. Reading a poem aloud is an engaging way to bring attention to what is most sacred and special about this holiday.
Here are four Thanksgiving poems that are wonderful to read out loud, either in unison (all voices together) or by taking turns reading each verse.
“Over the River and Through the Wood” by Lydia Maria Child
If this Thanksgiving poem sounds familiar, it’s probably because a version of it has been set to music. In the song version, some of the lyrics are about Christmas rather than Thanksgiving. Here is an excerpt from the original poem:
This week I posted some “Grave Humor” on the Poems page. These are epitaphs that might cause you to laugh if you found them on headstones in a cemetery. But if you are looking for more spooky/funny poems to read or share this year, here are a handful of other poems I wrote especially for Halloween.
When poets write rhyming, metrical poems, they usually count “feet” instead of syllables. A foot is a group of syllables that, most of the time, contains a single stressed syllable. (Read Rhythm in Poetry – The Basics, and You Can Scan, Man for more information about stressed syllables and poetic feet.)
Meet the Iamb
The most common poetic foot in the English language is known as the “iamb.” An iamb is two syllables, where the first syllable is unstressed and the second syllable is stressed. For example, the word “today” is an iamb because the stress falls on the second syllable, like this:
When a poems is written using iambs, we say that it is “iambic.” For example, the following line is iambic.
As I explained in Rhythm in Poetry – The Basics, some syllables in English are “stressed” – pronounced louder or with more emphasis than others – while other syllables are “unstressed,” meaning they are not emphasized. Knowing this, you can create patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables in your writing to create a rhythm in the words. Having rhythms in your poems make them more fun to recite and easier to remember.
To make it easy to spot the stressed and unstressed syllables in the examples I gave, I wrote them in UPPERCASE and lowercase letters, like this:
my PUPpy PUNCHED me IN the EYE.
The trouble with using this method is that it is awkward to write or type this way, and it makes the poem more difficult to read. Also, if you have a poem that is already printed on paper, you wouldn’t want to have to rewrite the entire thing just to show the rhythm.
Wouldn’t it be better if could make marks to show the stressed and unstressed syllables? Indeed, there is such a system that is commonly used, and it’s called “scansion” (pronounced “scan-shun”). The process of marking the stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem is called “scanning.”
I thought you might like to know that I’ve started putting printable poetry activity worksheets for some of my poems on the website. You’ll find them on the Poetry Activities page under the heading “Worksheets.”
You can use these worksheets at home or in class to give kids a few more fun activities to do beyond just reading the poems. By answering questions, writing, and even unscrambling words, kids will get a little more practice to help improve their comprehension and literacy.
A huge thank you to Primary Leap for creating a number of these wonderful activity worksheets! Visit their website for thousands more printable activity worksheets for kids organized by grade level and subject.
Here are direct links to the activity worksheets I’ve posted so far. Enjoy!