Thursday, January 12, 2012

It Began with Mother Goose

      I received a question from a woman with a three year old daughter. The child walks around rhyming to herself out loud. The woman wanted to know how to encourage poetry in a child. Did my parents do anything to encourage me? My answer was that it all began with Mother Goose. 
      My mother read me nursery rhymes. and I turned pages and looked at pictures. I mem- orized them and walked around the house sing-songing “Jack Sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean.” I thought I was Little Miss Muffet and worried about spiders, and I tumbled down a nearby hill like Jill of Jack and Jill.
It was a living world, but I created my own world as well:

They teach her the easy trick
of a tricycle
she imagines her way
around the block
she’s the sheriff
and the bike is her horse
she tracks down bad guys
and rescues a child
dressed in her own clothes

       My mother  taught me how to read and write on a blackboard easel when I was 4. She was a great believer in thank you notes. Bernie Birnbaum, our pediatrician, made house calls for measles, chicken pox, ear infections, and each time he came I was encour-

aged to write a thank you note on folded construction paper covered with stickers and stars - and those notes, with mother’s help, became little rhymed verses. Not that this is unusual. Those who teach poetry in the schools know how naturally creative children are with language.

      But there was aloneness in my childhood too, as there were no other kids to play with until I was eight, and I was sent outside to play by myself.  I say aloneness rather than loneliness, because it did not feel bad to be alone.

She is left in the yard
that is nowhere
and there is nothing
but the mist and the vine  
she sees herself
in a morning glory  
and hears the sound of a train
it is calling her  
she thinks the whistle
must be her name

      The ability to tolerate and even enjoy being alone - to turn it into creative solitude - is crucial. The most talented young poet I’ve ever known hated being an only child, threw herself into social life in high school, and has not written since. I’m hoping that someday she will be captured by the Muse and carried back to poetry.

      Before I started kindergarden I had my own library card, and later I went to the Sherwood Forest library once a week on my blue Columbia Paratrooper, (it folded in the middle, the handlebars collapsed, and it was a child’s version of the bikes used in WWII. As it aged, it would fold in the middle while I was riding it.) 

I brought home 5 or 6 books. In winter I hoped for new snow to track through as I walked to the library muffled and galoshed and gloved.
      We did not have a television until I was 8, and I already had the habit of reading. Until then we listened to the radio. With books and radio you have to fill in the missing visual and or auditory dimen-  sions to have a satisfactory experience.  TV and video do not require the imagination for sense or enjoyment, and continual activity seems to fill kids’ lives, so I’m not sure how the imagination develops now. I do know that my college students who never read for pleasure could not visualize the narrative or characters.

      I was given a diary with a lock and key when I was 8, and I used it to write stories, and play with words, and confide secrets, and I created names for myself in pseudo-Indian languages, since

I did not like the anglicized version of Leah my parents insisted on using.  I don’t remember the name I gave the diary, but it was my Best Friend.

     And I still keep a journal. Sometimes what begins as a couple of lines in my journal turns into a poem.  I can add images to Pages, and I’m often inspired by art, and music, neither of which were a part of my parents’ lives. I told the woman who asked the question which began this blog, that art, music, and nature, introduced early, will not disappear. And even if what is experienced is lost, there is always the chance it will return later. Sometimes I believe that nothing is ever lost.

The poems in this blog are from my chapbook A Flash of Angel, published by Blue Light Press.



  1. That alone time is crucial. It also helps to have parents who read to their kids. Important points, you're making here.


  2. Leah, This is beautiful! thank goodness for your mother and for your early solitude, painful as it also was.

  3. Thank goodness for both our mothers. Patricia. Whatever deficits, illness and problems they incurred, they did provide gifts.