In the everyday

Poetry lives in the everyday, I tell my young students. In what you feel, what you see, and what you say. They want to be poetic, and so they’ll use words like regret and sorrow. They’ll force rhymes and take a brooding tone. At just 10 to 13 years old, they believe — like many adults — that poetry is a string of forlorn verse.

But I take the Naomi Shihab Nye perspective. Nye, an Arab-American poet living in Texas, has been called “a champion of the literature of encouragement and heart” (by William Stafford, another great poet and an Oregon icon).

Nye believes poetry resides in the little things, the big things, and in the ordinary spaces inbetween. In Valentine for Ernest Mann, she writes:

. . . So I'll tell a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them . . .

And so, with Nye as an example, my young charges and I look for poetry in shadows and shoes. We take walks to experience ordinary life with fresh eyes. We gather words and sounds and listen for poetry in traffic and horns, in shouts and silence.

A few weeks ago, I shared Nye’s collection, A Maze Me: Poems for Girls with my 10 year-old niece. Kimberly is a bright and curious girl who loves nature and science. Within 10 minutes of cracking the book, she was inspired to pen her own poem. Now, that’s the poetry spirit!

The sun is high
The moon is low
The day is bright
And the night is cold
The stars are my nightlights
so I don’t get scared
My father said, don’t burn
out the lights
so that is why I
use the sky.

I love this piece. It’s fresh and unaffected. It doesn’t try too hard. Kimberly saw poetry in light and stitched words from the sky — and we can too. When we pay attention and write from everyday experience, we're all poets, at any age.