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Teaching Poetry To Youth

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Joseph A. Bailey, II, M.D.
Young people seem to have special access to the primary aesthetic or artistic flavor process of Creativity that can be use to persuade; to inform; to entertain; to share; to teach (show); to instruct (build); to educate (draw out one’s inner powers); or to serve as a call to action. Their youth is characterized by freshness, genuineness, and perceptual vividness. Hence, the key to introducing poetry or any new field of study to little children on up to teen years is to make it fun and let them use a free mind. Since it is up to the parents to decide what is appropriate and fun for their children, only some very general comments will be made here. The principle for Little Kids is to convey that which is beautiful and rhythmic. The human voice gains it power from natural rhythms—rhythms like the ocean tide going into and out from shore—rhythms in keeping with drum beats.  From an Afrocentric perspective the best poems chosen consist of “the word revealed in life” presented in a manner that connections, interactions, and the meeting of thoughts lead to harmony. This process of getting into the rhythm and the appreciation of poems generally starts with the parents reading to the children. 

The foundation springs from being clear about the original source of poetry and how information from that source was organized. For anything beautiful and/or significant in the world today that source began in Ancient Africa and was organized around the spiritual.

To step into the subject of poetry, I suggest that parent and Children get to know well the biography of a poet. Let us use, for example, the colorful Black Arab lover-warrior-poet Antar (Antarah Ibn Shaddad) who arose out of the Bedouin (Muslim nomads) camel riding desert tradition which honored nobility of character. By emphasizing courtesy of behavior, he and his “The Antar Romance”—a celebrated epic pertaining to the Arabic romance of chivalry and written for men—were respectively hailed as the greatest poet and poem of his time (Bennett, Before the Mayflower p12). It tells of his fabulous childhood as son of the king and a Black Slave. With a swagger, Antar led an adventurous life in a fearless, impetuous, ready to fight manner (including fighting with lions) and otherwise was fond of singing lyrics and “spirits.”

In uniting the virtues of his people with magnanimity and bravery, the imagery of his writings are precise; the descriptions of natural phenomena are detailed; and his vocabulary is strikingly rich in its sophisticated structure. In a fight before the advent of Islam he died 615 AD and was immortalized as the “Achilles of the Arabian Iliad.” This was both the first classical work concerned with color prejudice and the prototype for the development of European “Chivalry” a few centuries later. Its narrators, the “Antarists” created a style of their own. The works and persona of Antar had such an international appeal as for him to be considered greater than the Greek Hero Achilles and their greatest poet Homer. Thus, he is called the Father of Heroes (Rogers, Great Men of Color p138).

For Older Children and teenagers Pop Poems (poems that take phrases and selections from the popular media or advertisements and reposition or juxtapose them) can be fun and mind building. So are the following: Concrete Poems are shaped so that their meaning can be found in a combination of their words and their physical placement on the page. Found Poems are selections from almost any kind of written matter and reorganized into poetic lines that transform their meaning.

Practical Poetry embraces advertising jingles and memory rhymes (30 days hath September). All youth ought to understand that the world’s best poetry touches the heart because of its Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and/ or Perfection; because of the Love and affection it conveys; or because of ones compassion for the pain and suffering of sentient (feeling) beings.

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