They said poetry was really effective with these kids who had intense interests in things, who were able to respond really well to form, who could use and see language in profound ways, who have a natural ability for metaphor and deep empathy. They described formal poetry as organizing for the mind.
Let’s think about a poem that is basically a complaint – nobody understands me so I’m going to go up on Echo Mountain and cry. Everybody’s written this, especially in some hideously expensive journal with a leather cover and a silver clasp.
Take that poem with all its legitimate angst (it’s truly dispiriting to be misunderstood) and invite it into a simple form like the sonnet. Immediately meter comes into play; that makes the incident or experience more melodious; even if that melody turns out to be strident and cacophonous and would generally make Phillip Glass happy, the sounds are still organized in a way lots of free verse isn’t.
Next comes rhyme and right after that the search for synonyms. Lots of young poets say things like, “Well, rhyme won’t let me say what I mean.” Here’s what I tell them: “Good. I know what you mean. Say something that doesn’t bore the crap out of
me. Don’t rhyme misunderstood with childhood. Everybody does that. Rhyme it with Hollywood and see where that takes you.”
Here’s another sentence or two from Anne’s e-mail:
He told a story of an autistic teenager who could only tie his shoes when he recited William Blake – he needed the meter to organize his mind enough to get the executive functioning to perform the motor task.
I wish everybody – not just kids – would recite poems as they dressed. Imagine a neighborhood where poetry soared out of bedroom windows as folks laced and buttoned and zipped before the work day began. I’d live there for sure. Wouldn’t you
P.S. Don’t get me wrong – poetry can be used as therapy and a poem can be purging. Just don’t purge around me when I’m wearing my good pants.