Thursday, May 03, 2012

Poems and Secret Places

The sweet girl and I have been enjoying The 20th Century Children's Poetry Treasury this week. Its over 200 poems represent over 130 poets, and all of them were chosen by the wonderful Jack Prelutsky. It turns out that Mr. Prelutsky, whose poems have long been a favorite at our house, is as terrific a selector as he is a poet. And Meilo So's gentle watercolor illustrations make the book extra lovely.

It's hard to know what's more enjoyable when reading a collection like this, coming across poems you already love (the ones that feel like old friends) or discovering new gems. Both are highly pleasurable experiences for poetry readers! I loved seeing the sweet girl's face light up when we came across Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Afternoon on a Hill." That's long been a favorite of mine too, and she memorized it this year -- one of my favorite fourth grade language arts moments. I felt my own face light up when I stumbled onto Langston Hughes' "April Rain Song."

But there were some new ones in here I loved to me and new to the sweet girl. One that really stirred both our hearts this morning was Dennis Lee's "The Secret Place." It begins:

There's a place I go, inside myself,
     Where nobody else can be.
And none of my friends can tell it's there --
      Nobody knows but me.

(You can read the rest of it here, at Canadian Poetry online.) 

I love how this poem captures the inner, dreaming place we all have inside us -- that intimate place that nobody knows but God and us.  I love how he describes the place as "tiny" and "shiny" but then adds, in practically the same breath, that "it's big as the sky at night." Yes. Tiny and intimate, like a swirled shell, but expansive as the ocean. Readers of all ages can resonate with a poem like this. For my nine year old who is beginning to ask more and more for "privacy" (especially when she's reading, creating art, writing stories) it rang clear as a bell. But it rang that way for me too.

Maybe especially so because it happens to be situated on a page with another poem called "Tree Climbing." Kathleen Fraser's poem begins "This is my tree,/my place to be alone in,/my branches for climbing,/my green leaves for hiding in."  Some of my best childhood memories involve spending time in my inner secret place while spending time in a leafy outer secret place -- a favorite seat in the butterfly bush in the back yard, or in the front yard maple. Not having many green, leafy hiding places one of the challenges of raising a child in an urban environment. It makes me doubly glad for the power of imagination and for poems like these.

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