Where's The Poetry Section?

Where’s The Poetry Section?

I have been wandering into bookshops in search of poetry for most of my adult life. As an educator, I acquire poetry books to better position myself to teach poetry. As a poet, I need poetry books to deepen my understanding of how poetry works. I am constantly searching for poetry’s vital spark. I am committed to this quest. Poetry is my writing oxygen.

But sadly in so many of my poetry searches I have come away empty handed and somewhat disillusioned. In the vast majority of bookshops  you will not find a designated section for children’s poetry. When poetry titles are offered, they are more than likely classic rhyming verse and frequently sitting among the general collection of picture books. 



Little wonder kids only think of poetry as something that rhymes. They develop a narrow interpretation of poetry because that is what they are being fed.  Rarely do you find contemporary content. The landscape is barren and degraded. A smattering of imported poetry books appear on occasions, but it is rare to find new local product, apart from an occasional anthology of selected verse curated by a lone flag bearer.

There is a paucity of poetry out there folks. Publishers appear to be risk averse. Even educational publishers tend to devote scant attention to children’s poetry. Bookshop shelves bulge with fantasy and dystopian titles. Endless offerings of ghouls, goblins, witches, fairies and zombies exist. Realistic fiction and poetry have been pushed quite consciously to the margins. Publishers maintain control over the reading diets of young readers. Our children deserve greater diversity in their reading. 



Various Verse Novels


So, even though poetry features in the Australian curriculum and is studied extensively in our schools, finding a selection of children’s poetry in bookstores is often a dispiriting experience.  Rare sightings suggest poetry has assumed a position akin to an endangered species.


Having taught poetry for many decades, I know kids enjoy it. I know they embrace it once they discover that poetry is accessible and user friendly. They enthusiastically read it, create it, and seek it out. It is a sad fact that poetry is badly served by adult prejudice and apprehension. Such notions feed the misguided belief that poetry is elitist, or inaccessible. Such notions result in poetry experiences that venture no further than haiku and acrostics, because sadly that is the limit of teacher comfort.

I have curated my personal collection of poetry books by means of diligent detective work across many years. A tireless search has been conducted in bookshops the world over. I have  sought to nourish my poet’s heart. Searching on-line has sometimes uncovered treasured poetry titles. I have unearthed gems in second hand book stores, and because I am known for my poetic proclivities, have frequently been alerted to, or gifted books by benefactors, bless them. 

My poet’s suitcase contains forensic evidence of my poetic gathering across the decades. Poetry sings to me from my bookshelves. I concur with the words of Rita Dove who said, ‘Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.’ Reason enough to let it into my life.


Every time I visit a library -school or community, I rummage through the poetry titles hoping to unearth new books. Occasionally, I glean new possibilities, sometimes though, the titles on display indicate few new titles have been added for some considerable time. Poetry has fallen off the radar in such places.





As a poet I am speaking from a position of self-interest, but I am also advocating for the right of all those potential young poets out there who deserve to access poetry should they so desire. They deserve the option of selecting poetry books when they visit a book shop. 


So, I am urging all poetry lovers, young and not so young to ask the following questions when browsing in their local bookshop. ‘Excuse me, would you kindly tell me where the poetry section is located? And if they say, ‘There isn’t one’, ask them ‘How come?’ There’s no rhyme or reason why we can’t effect some poetic justice.








Comments

  1. oh Alan! You know how much I agree with you, and I love your simple suggestion. Like you, as a poet, educator and newly-minted Doctor of children's poetry(can't get the university to add that last bit to my title, lol) I, too, have a vested interest, but more than anything I want the world to be a better place and know that poetry is a key part of reaching this goal.

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    1. Sally, I know excatly how you feel about this poetry problem. We are all charged with continuing to advocate for poetry and the rights of children to have access to it. Congratulations on achieving your Doctorate. It would be most appropriate to be a Doctor of Children's Poetry. Thank you for lending your valued support to this issue.

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  2. I work at a local used bookstore and we have poetry in several places, upstairs in both children's and an adult shelf, downstairs with more bargains. My Indie store has a dedicated children's section, though not as diverse as I'd like it, they do carry some of the newest titles. You've made me now want to visit some other bookshops to see what they're doing. Kids are missing out if they aren't given poetry for their lives, too, I agree. Thanks for sharing the importance, Alan.

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    1. Linda, that sounds like my kind of bookstore. We need more bookstores delivering these kinds of options to readers, particularly our children.

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  3. I enjoyed your post, and will check out the poetry section when I am in bookstores. I just spoke to a teacher today who told me that poetry has been crowded out of the classrooms in her school to make way for non-fiction. I wished, as a language teacher, she had been more upset than she seemed to be about it.

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    1. Good for you Janice. Check out those bookstores. Reading options should never become an either or situation. There is room for both non-fiction and poetry. A child's reading diet needs to be balanced. Let's continue to advocate for this important realisation.

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  4. Alas, poetry collections tend to be shrinking in libraries, too - no wonder kids think of poetry as something written by dead white men from long ago, when that's most of the poetry we're introduced to at school! :(

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    1. Jane, your observations are sadly all too true. The challenge is to continue questioning such perceptions. Thank you for your pertinent remarks.

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  5. I totally agree with the need to expose children to poetry and let them dive in and play. I have found over and over again that children love to write poetry and find it accessible, liberating, and empowering. I love your suggestion to ask about poetry sections wherever we go. On a positive note, just this morning I was checking out the poetry section in the children's section of a local independent bookstore. :)Sadly, there are few bookstores left in my neck of the woods. But that's a whole different conversation!

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    1. Molly, your observations regarding children being given the opportunities to embrace poetry are most pertinent. It bears fruit. Love your terms of liberation and empowerment, as they illustrate the transformative nature of poetry in the hands of children. I'm pleased your local bookstore has such an enlightened view.

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  6. I will be looking for and asking about the poetry books when I visit a bookstore! When I taught middle schoolers, I loved opening their minds to what poetry could do for them. We read and wrote poetry and it was always the best day when I connected a reader with a poetry book they loved. And it happend rather frequently, much to their surprise. I spy some old favorites and some new titles to check out in your stacks.

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    1. Another literate soul seeking answers Kay, good for you! Hope you find some more of the titles you saw in the stack. You can never have too much poetry in your life. Enjoyed your recollections of the joy that came with awakening the poet's hearts of those middle school students. Thanks for dropping by.

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    2. Sadly, I have had this experience. I did find a wonderful poetry section in an indie bookstore in Rutland, Vermont last year. A poet at the register invited me to a local reading that evening. That doesn't help you Down Under, though. Perhaps your local bookstore would let you form a kids poetry reading group. Then maybe they might stock some of the books... We must rage again the dying of the light of poetry.

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    3. Thanks for the idea Brenda. Love your final statement.

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