My namesake, my Nonnie, was a dream grandmother. She knew every nursery rhyme, every silly song, and read from Robert Louise Stevenson's "A Child's Garden of Verses," with the same joy with which I would listen. She may not have been as good at other roles in life as she was as a grandmother, but because of Nonnie, I excelled in Mother Goose in Kindergarten, and poetry has been a life-long love.
Later, I taught Kindergarten myself. The children I taught were misfits-emotionally disturbed five-year-olds, who were wild, withdrawn, violent, and to a child, oppositional. When it was time to sing songs, listen to stories, and recite poems together, they were well-behaved, happy, content classmates, who liked each other and enjoyed their young lives, more than at any other time of day. Children don't have to be taught to love rhyme and metrical language. They are fascinated with ditties like, "Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross to see a fine lady upon a white horse. With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, she shall have music wherever she goes," long before the words convey meaning to them. Try it. Bounce a oneyear-old on your knee, with and without a spoken verse or song, and see the delight in the child's face when he or she hears magical, metrical rhyme.
"I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree." Do Yeats' words speak to a longing in you? I'd guess yes, that they do. He didn't say, "I'll get up and go to Innisfree." The meaning is the same-but there is no poetry in the second version. It is not a magnificent line, as is the first. Oh, yes. Our gift is that we recognize the music of language, we are hard-wired to, and we have been all our lives. We can understand meaning through metaphor, or listen to "'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/ Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:," and glean much more than nonsense from Lewis Carroll's words.
Good modem poets often eschew forms and rhyme schemes from other centuries, creating their own structures, scansions, and devices so that their words will reach, again in W.B. Yeats words, "the deep heart's core." Craft, insight, emotion are needed to drive poetry to that place within us, as much today as during any other period of our human history. When today's poets do use the frame of a sestina or a villanelle, fresh, relevant, language is needed to anchor the lines in modem minds and souls. Poetry isn't only for poets. It is an important part of our humanity. Ask a baby and you will see the proof. --Editorial 2007