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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    ‘Poetry Joeys’ lets kids play with poems

    If you think poetry is a lofty art form accessible only to the intellectual elite, think again. The Poetry Center wants to get ’em while they’re young.

    Saturday morning was this semester’s final session of Poetry Joeys, a program that has been hosted monthly since fall 2007. Each session features an hour of song, dance, writing and other activities meant to actively engage children ages 4 to 10 years old in the reading and production of poetry.

    Saturday’s session hosted at the Poetry Center featured volunteers from the UA Museum of Art who presented a series of activities ranging from discussion to improvisational dance. This helped the crowd of about 15 children draw connections between poetry and the visual arts.

    “”We just want to engage young children with poetry and more generally with literature,”” said Renee Angle, program coordinator for the Poetry Center and one of the founders of Poetry Joeys. “”Poetry is one of the best ways to do that because poetry is language in one of its most potent forms.””

    “”We’re not asking everyone to be a poet, but we think there is a lot to love and enjoy about poetry,”” Angle said. “”Kids are getting (poetry) packets at school. We want to get them up dancing and singing and interacting with language and feeling the physicality of what language is.””

    Colleen Burns, a volunteer for the Poetry Center whose granddaughter attended the event, said programs like Poetry Joeys build a positive foundation for children to develop a lifelong love of language.

    “”People tend to ruin poetry for kids,”” Burns said. “”Billy Collins has a poem about how people want to tie a poem to a chair and beat it until it tells you what it really means. But I think if you can catch kids at this age, they have no idea that it’s supposed to be a tortuous process. If you can instill in a kid a love of language, then they’ve got it all.””

    Saturday was the first time 6-year-old first grader Eli Protas had been to Poetry Joeys, but he said he loved being able get up and move around while learning about poetry.

    “”I like the way (poetry) sounds ’cause it’s not just words. It’s – I don’t really know how to explain it, it’s pretty cool,”” Protas said.

    Poetry Joeys is free and open to the public without pre-registration. Schedules are posted on the Poetry Center Web site,

    Programs like Poetry Joeys are especially necessary in the face of recent budget cuts to public education, where units such as poetry that don’t appear on standardized tests are among the first cut, Burns said. She added that parents need to be willing to take up slack for schools in those areas.

    “”We make reading almost like getting root canals,”” Burns said. “”It’s like, ‘You’ve got to do it, you’ve got to score,’ and you put such pressure on it, but here it’s just pure pleasure, and it’s play, but it’s such meaningful play. We’ve lost sight of how important play is for learning. Play is learning, and with poetry you can teach so many things, and it’s painless.””

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