Tuesday, May 15, 2007

No Nightmares, Please - Why is so much children's poetry full of sadism and doom?

A nice piece by my new internet buddy.

by Jeff Gordinier

One day it dawns on you that your kid has watched too many episodes of Dora the Explorer. Every time the Dora character known as “Map” shows up on screen and sings, “I’m the Map I’m the Map I’m the Map I’m the Map,” you entertain private fantasies of dousing him in lighter fluid, torching him with a match, and giggling uncontrollably while he flails in agony. If a cartoon inspires this much raw hatred before you catch the train to work, it’s probably not a good idea for your kid to watch a ton of it.

So maybe you want to expose your children to fine poetry instead. Which is great, except that you live in a country where some moron makes way more money than you do by writing lyrics like “I’m the Map I’m the Map I’m the Map I’m the Map,” so you’re sort of on your own. And when you come right down to it, reading poems to your adorable offspring is, like breastfeeding, much harder than you think.

When I first tried to introduce my daughter to the wonders of verse, I thought I would kick things off with a couple of haikus, mostly because they are super-short, so she wouldn’t have time to run away. I picked up a collection by Basho, the magnificent Japanese poet of the 17th century, opened the book at random, and flipped to this:
Nothing in the cry
of cicadas suggests they
are about to die
Ummm. Gosh, I thought . . . impermanence, death, a melancholy beauty—couldn’t we wait until kindergarten before we got into all that? (Now, if only it was the Map who was about to croak . . . ) I flipped around, and up came this little gem:
Whore and monk, we sleep
under one roof together,
moon in a field of clover
Uh, no. Won’t be reading that one...

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