We read and write poetry.
Of course we do.
You probably think I’m a crazy lady. My kids looked at me incredulously when I told them we would be doing poetry whenever someone got sick.
You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Poetry? Are you kidding? I can barely keep up with the care-giving and the cleaning of all things coming out of every opening.”
No, really. Hear me out.
If you have a gaggle or even a couple of children, you are more than familiar with what happens when sickness infiltrates your house. Like an invisible hand, it slowly takes hold of each member of the house. Occasionally, one or two members are spared. Sometimes it runs through the entire house leaving everyone and everything looking like you survived a post-apocalyptic disaster.
Last month, we were hit. We also managed to write a few poems because well, it was National Poetry month of course. My kids and I read classics and traditional children’s poems, but we also love the work of Whitney French – a local poet whose work simply makes my soul sing and who also did a family poem for us. (I am currently trying to salvage the blog post I did talking about the poem…)
5 reasons why you should consider reading and/or writing poetry when sickness runs rampant in your house:
1. You can find really great fun poetry books that make the kids laugh which ultimately, distracts them from wallowing in their sickness and entertains the ones that are well.
Jack Prelutsky’s books provide some comic relief especially when you want to break out in hysterical laughter when another child goes down…
2. Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. – Robert Frost
Being sick and around sick people is no fun. There is frustration, exhaustion, disappointment, and even anger and resentment from the ones that are well. I wanted them to all know that it was ok to feel that way and perhaps we should write a poem about it. Of course, they look at me like I’m a crazy lady as they often do when I come up with crazy ideas. But then I read Whitney’s poem, Ancient Whisper, to them and they became more open to the idea of writing a poem together – etheree style – of how we were all feeling:
sick of sick
ready to breathe
fighting the cruel cold
ready to live louder
without a raspy dry voice
the sun needs to come out today
warming our body and our spirit
instead we’ll find warmth with a cup of tea
They get all their complaints and whining out in a poem. They express their frustrations and their longings into these words that sound so much more beautiful than “I hate being sick!” and “I hate it when we can’t do anything because people are sick!”
3. Sometimes the best poetry is written when they are semi-conscious, sleep-deprived, and are in the throes of agony. (Mostly, when I am in agony.)
They can be incoherent and all jumbled in their language use on the best of days but I find that illness often brings them a clarity and freedom with words. My kids are pretty tired of haikus. We do them every year and I always assume that they will be easy because it’s a simple format: first line 5 syllables, second line 7 syllables, and the third line is 5 syllables. They give me grief when they just can’t find the right words. When they were sick, I tried again. The most interesting thing I observed was how easy words came to the sick ones even though some had fevers and were semi-awake. They rapidly fired words at me that described their bird and I strung them together to fit the haiku format. I assigned each of them a bird, including myself, and we each wrote a haiku:
The red cardinal
With pointy sharp orange beaks
Flying through the trees
A Blue Jay
The Blue Jay can fly
Awesome and he can fly round
and round the big earth
The sleepy owl hoots
It gazes across the sky
Searching for its prey
The eagle dives down
Tucking its golden wings in
Nature’s own air show
They circle small birds
The small birds warn each other:
DANGER! FLY AWAY!
Suddenly they’re here
A sign of spring’s arrival
A new beginning
4. Reading poetry that rhymes is soothing and is a great alternate to singing if you are sick yourself.
Poetry rhymes, a song our souls need to nourish upon. Poetry is a drum, a sound our bodies wish to have. Poetry is organized, a reading our eyes wish to view. Poetry is refined, a structure our moral selves seek. Poetry is civil, instigating the world to remain sane. Poetry is not ordinary, but it needs the ordinary eyes to continue to be the interesting art form of expression. Poetry is like a child communicating, who later grows to be an adult communicating in prose. – Gloria D. Gonsalves
There is a rhythm that you fall into when you read poetry aloud. They may be half asleep or crying in discomfort but a poem’s rhymes and the subsequent melodic cadence in your voice can calm and reassure. Maybe singing isn’t your thing but try picking up a book of garden verses of seasonal poetry and you will be amazed how everyone stops to listen.
5. Reading poetry to each other inspires compassion and empathy.
Reading or reciting a favourite poem from memory to a sick sibling softens their hearts and can relieve tension. Sometimes a funny poem is chosen and both the reader and the listener break into smiles. It also softens my heart and gives me a little hit of something beautiful when I am taking care of everyone else.
Toward the end of that sick period, we ended up composing a poem together when Ever-Patient was away. We used the “sestina” format, inspired by Whitney French’s poem “Wish” she wrote for National Poetry month a few years ago. It was fun. The six of us each chose a word and each of us wrote a stanza and worked on the last one together…
I saw a ripple in the water,
I heard a loud echo
Coming from a distant howl.
I felt the earth.
My hand felt my breath.
The moon gave me a shadow.
The tree cast a long shadow.
In the river, I poured water.
In the air, I saw my breath.
The world heard my echo,
I felt the breath of the earth,
I heard the wolves howl.
I heard the wind howl
Wherever I go, there is a shadow
I walked the solid earth
I walked by the water
In the distance, I hear a echo
I took a deep breath.
I heard the morning’s breath
As wolves howl,
I howled back with an echo
I saw their shadow
Across the water.
They rumbled the earth.
I sprinted across the crumbled earth
I stopped to catch my breath
I heard trickling water
Then the sound of a nearby howl
The moon cast a dark shadow
Now, the howl was a distant echo
In the valley, the sounds echo.
The slight movement across the earth
Is my companion, my shadow.
The gentle breeze is a soft breath,
A faint whisper in this night of howl,
Flowing through me like water.
The clear water ripples like a familiar echo
My spirit open to howl, crying to the earth.
We take a breath together and leave the shadow.
In this story
I am the poet
You’re the poetry. – Arzum Uzun
The children inspire me even when they’re sick. Poetry takes us out of our heads and our bodies, and leads us into our hearts. It makes us focus on beauty when it’s so hard to find it. We search for words that describe the dark and the light, honouring both.
Although I am guiding them in their choice of words, they are the ones that will choose what to say and choose what to see. In the end, I want them to see their lives as a living poem. A poem filled with beauty and ugliness, with health and sickness, with triumph and struggle. A unique poem that they will craft and recite proudly as their life unfolds.
And so maybe it starts with this: a mama reminding them of the healing power of their words as she turns to poetry when they are sick.
Do you have a favourite poem or poetry book? Have you tried any cool poetry activities with your kids?