April is National Poetry Month, a time to celebrate poetry in all its forms. Many schools and programs take advantage of this month to launch poetry units and special events. Towns such as Montpelier, VT celebrate with Poem City, a city-wide initiative that posts poetry all over public spaces and celebrates poets with readings and events. Some of our past partners have gotten creative with activities like Poem in Your Pocket and Paint Chip Poetry. Many CLiF Year of the Book schools also conducted poetry workshops with poets/CLiF Presenters Ted “That Poetry Guy” Scheu and Rajnii Eddins.
I can trace my love of poetry back to my father reading me A.A. Milne’s poems before bed. While Milne is best known for his Winnie the Pooh series, I fell in love with his poems at an early age when my dad read his collections to me over and over. We read the copies his parents had read to him when he was a child, well-loved fabric-covered copies of Now We Are Six and When We Were Very Young. For years, he’d recite the poem Now We Are Six on my birthday, even when I was far past age six. I can recite it from memory to this day.
Not long ago, while discussing children’s books, my father said the line “King John Was Not a Good Man” and I immediately replied, “He had his little ways.” The intonation of his voice was exactly the same as I remembered it from those long-ago reading sessions. That line alone transported me to bedtimes past when the sound of my father’s voice reciting Milne’s poetry guided me to sleep. Those early poems he read to me at bedtime for years have lodged themselves permanently in my brain. I credit those nightly poetry sessions with inspiring my own poetry and love of the form. Poet Gregory Pardlo recently shared his own early introduction to poetry in this Brightly essay.
Some of my best childhood memories are of reading with my parents. When I got older, I read to my dad. We went through the Harry Potter series in his workshop, where I read while seated on a turned-over five-gallon bucket. We also read E.B. White’s Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan more times than I can count. Shel Silverstein’s poems were another favorite. But it will always be A.A. Milne’s poetry that I hear in my father’s voice.
What poetry books do you and your family love? Do you have early memories of reading poetry?
Erika Nichols-Frazer is the Communications Manager at the Children’s Literacy Foundation, as well as an MFA candidate at the Bennington Writing Seminars. She lives in Waitsfield, VT with her husband, dogs, and chickens.