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Dexter Booth and Why Children Need Poetry

By Kerri Snell

I am convinced that if we force-fed small children poems the way we offer them Tater Tots as a nutritious vegetable in the lunch line, they would mature into taller sprigs of word-blooms, roots embedded in language and unable to survive without poetry.

If I were President of the United States for a day, I would Tweet about that.

What if, instead of No Child Left Behind, the next First Lady adopted the cause of No Child Without a Rhyme? It’s catchy and I can see sound bites erupting all over the place at events that require the coat-dress couture.

We have access to cable network channels 24/7 that number in the hundreds. There is a channel devoted to Rugby and there are numerous channels devoted to the mainstream sports. There are so many cooking shows to watch—Who has time to cook anymore? Why not a Poetry Channel? Why not, on a weekly basis, replace the White House Press Secretary with Ted Kooser or Natasha Trethewey or Kay Ryan?

For those who see the purpose in a Rugby Channel, but fail to see the purpose in poetry, try this on for size: creativity creates resilience in children. A child’s imagination is a type of immune system booster of sorts. Creativity creates solutions, and our world today could certainly use some of those. Creativity requires empathy, vulnerability, and an admission of the limits of being right.


How much better would our world be today if our current president had taken a few courses in creative writing? I’ll just let that question hang, like a dangling modifier or a sentence with very very… in it.


Perhaps because of my years working as a journalist, I find the writing of nonfiction prose much easier than the composing of a poem, and there are times when I fashion myself to be more of a nonfiction writer than a poet, but then, I discover lines such as these from Dexter L. Booth:


Believe me, nothing inside the body is ever quiet:
the heart whispers in its sleep, even
when the lips are closed. Blood chases itself
like a child down a labyrinth of veins,
like the water that recycles itself
through the lakes and marinas in Montana—

some processes can’t end. Even after love
the body keeps stretching, is filled with things
that move. My hairs stand on their own at the sight
of a moth, paddling circles around the foam
in a single unwashed bowl in the sink.

I read these lines from “Love in the Time of Revolution” and I know that I need poetry, which speaks to rather than explains. I need poetry because so much of life is inexplicable, and because the music, rhyme, and form create fresh air around even the harshest of words. All the very very’s get deleted out in the first draft. A great poem always allows room for another and when it ends, it usually opens rather than closes, which mimics the way our minds should work in a democracy.