Which poets/volumes should I read to my newborn?
May 18, 2010 1:59 PM   Subscribe

Which poets/volumes should I read to my newborn? Requirements inside.

When my daughter is born, and even beforehand, I want to read her poetry. I'd love for her to grow up enjoying being read to and enjoying the sound of words.

Ideally, the poems should rhyme and have a meter, be longer rather than shorter, and be entertaining, or edifying, or interesting for me. I have nothing against children's verse, but I can pick that on my own and that will matter more when she's older. For now, I'm looking for 'adult' poetry (Lewis Caroll and Rudyard Kipling certainly count, though). Difficulty: I'm put off by most of the English romantics.
posted by kitcat to Writing & Language (19 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats
Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha
Short-ish, but Lear's The Owl and the Pussycat, which you haven't lived until you've heard a 6-year-old recite from memory.
posted by jquinby at 2:04 PM on May 18, 2010

Read whatever you enjoy, whether it's Kipling or Chuck Palahniuk or the Obit column. Or just talk to her about your day. At this age, being talked to is just soothing noise. You don't need to overthink it.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:18 PM on May 18, 2010

Lawrence Ferlinghetti: A Coney Island of the Mind and everything else he ever wrote... and you could even play Miles Davis: Kind of Blue or your favorite Jazz record while reading them to make it even more inspiring and stimulating for your daughters senses. She'll grow up to be a hep cat for sure.
posted by jardinier at 2:19 PM on May 18, 2010

Well, I suppose its actually a children's poem, but Wynken, Blynken, and Nod is a big favorite of my son's.

The term "Narrative Poem" is one you might want to Google. Here is a great list of Narrative Poems that I dip into from time to time.

I find that a lot of Billy Collins work (though by no means all) is good for him.

Casey at the Bat

Believe it or not, I've read my son some Ginsburg (and other Beats) with moderate success, but you'll need to preview carefully for content.

When I was in elementary school, my Grandfather paid me $5 every Sunday if I had memorized a new poem of more than a certain number of lines (maybe 20?). The poems I learned at that time -- mostly Victorian poets, with some Shakespeare and Milne thrown in -- have served me well through my whole life.
posted by anastasiav at 2:20 PM on May 18, 2010

Response by poster: Yes, yes, it's mainly narrative poems that I'm looking for.
posted by kitcat at 2:33 PM on May 18, 2010

Here's one:

For a five year old
Fleur Adcock

A snail is climbing up the window-sill
Into your room, after a night of rain.
You call me in to see and I explain
That it would be unkind to leave it there:
It might crawl to the floor; we must take care
That no one squashes it. You understand,
And carry it outside, with careful hand,
To eat a daffodil.

I see, then, that a kind of faith prevails:
Your gentleness is moulded still by words
From me, who have trapped mice and shot wild birds,
Your closest relatives and who purveyed
The harshest kind of truth to many another,
But that is how things are: I am your mother,
And we are kind to snails.
posted by ifjuly at 2:35 PM on May 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

You might try to find rhymed translations of epic poems like the Iliad and the Odyssey. Versions like that aren't currently in vogue, but they do exist. There's an Alexander Pope translation of the Iliad that might be really fun to read out loud, as well as one of the Odyssey. Actually, Pope could be a lot of fun in general.

On another tack: do you feel strongly that it needs to be poetry? Why not read Shakespeare plays? They have a meter and often rhyme, and they're really fun to read out loud. This is also something you could do with a co-parent or other friends and relatives who want to hang out with you and the tiny one.
posted by dizziest at 2:39 PM on May 18, 2010

Best answer: Ballad of the White Horse, by Chesterton? Tells the story of King Alfred the Great. Gutenberg text here.
posted by jquinby at 2:40 PM on May 18, 2010

Best answer: I love the unusual rhythms of Tarantella by Hilaire Belloc and Eve by Ralph Hodgson. It takes a couple of readings of both to get the rhythms down; the first speeds up and slows down like a dance and the second is sort of winding and hypnotic.

As a very young child I enjoyed memorizing the conversation between Puck and the fairy in Midsummer Night's Dream.

There's also Visit to St. Elizabeths.

You may like the longer Dylan poems. In Country Sleep, A Winter's Tale, Into Her Lying Down Head, Vision and Prayer are all in his Collected Poems.(Difficult to find full-length versions of these online.)
posted by frobozz at 2:43 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Off the top of my head, I'd recommend Paul Laurence Dunbar, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Robert Browning. Sound (rhyme, rhythm and meter) is really important in a lot of their poetry and I think you'd find them interesting as well. Here are some examples:

Dunbar - When de Co'n Pone's Hot

-An Ante-Bellum Sermon

Hopkins - As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme

Browning - A Toccata of Galuppi's
posted by thebergfather at 3:14 PM on May 18, 2010

Best answer: Ogden Nash.
posted by sleepingcbw at 6:14 PM on May 18, 2010

Best answer: Ah. I have a toddler and a shelf of poetry and we do postprandial poetry readings here -- but instead of being loaded with good suggestions, I had been meaning to ask a pretty similar question myself. However, for what it's worth, my daughter really enjoys Robert Graves' Warning to Children -- she likes the Children, leave the string alone! exclamation -- and we also like Ferlinghetti's Underwear. The remember-it-forever hit is Yeats' A Cradle Song, which fits almost none of your criteria. But you may enjoy having something short and sweet for recitation purposes!
posted by kmennie at 6:42 PM on May 18, 2010

Best answer: How about Four Quartets?
posted by Cygnet at 7:12 PM on May 18, 2010

Thanks, Frobozz, for the reminder of Tarantella. I haven't thought of that poem in years, but I still remember it and love it; it's great for reciting. I spent 6th and 7th grade in Australia and had a year 6 teacher who loved teaching us to memorize poems. I still frequently recite another Belloc poem to my kids, who love it: Jim (who ran away from his nurse and was eaten by a lion). Great rhythm, and kids love gory moral stories :).
posted by purenitrous at 7:47 PM on May 18, 2010

Hmm, in my experience nannying, helping raise many friends' kids, and raising my own, they have very little interest in poetry until they're quite old. There are some poetry collections for kids which have carefully selected poems (originally composed for adults), but in my experience, even these aren't that exciting to most kids unless they're funny.

I read whatever I felt like to my newborn, like, the novels I was reading for instance, then switched to board books when she got interested in hearing them, then picture books, then chapter books. Now I read some "grown up" books to my seven year old if I can find a story that is compelling for her (it keeps things more fun for me).

I have read her some poetry - Langston Hughes, Auden, Basho - that she's liked, but her attention span for it is quite limited.
posted by serazin at 9:16 PM on May 18, 2010

Best answer: Long ones with ripping stories and good readable meter.

The Highwayman
The Cremation of Sam McGee and others by Robert Service
The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere by Longfellow - and others by him
You could read lyrics from Gilbert and Sullivan.
Also, check out some of Dr Seuss's books for older readers - eg Scrambled Eggs Super - they're longer and his writing is such a pleasure.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:14 AM on May 19, 2010

Best answer: Jabberwocky
The Listeners by Walter de la Mare
Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scott
Michael Morpurgo's wonderful Because a Fire Was in My Head (I am a grownup and I love this book)
Wendy Cope's Heaven on Earth

And seconding the vote for Shakespeare -- the earlier kids hear it the better. When I was young I loved it for the music and didn't worry so much about the meaning. Then when it came time to study it in school, the language didn't sound strange or difficult at all.
posted by stuck on an island at 3:35 AM on May 19, 2010

I've just thought of another longer poem that's super fun to read aloud: The Mountain Whippoorwill (Or, How Hill-Billy Jim Won the Great Fiddlers' Prize).
posted by frobozz at 4:18 PM on May 19, 2010

Geez, no recommendations for Robert Frost? His longer stuff is, I think, less known and underappreciated. Take a look at some of the works in New Hampshire (maybe The Star Splitter).

Goodness - archive.org seems to have The Poems of Robert Frost - lots to check out there.
posted by kristi at 10:07 AM on May 21, 2010

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