Proficiency and Artistry

Preston Brown

24 days ago by prestonbrown

Today, I was reading a thread on Twitter talking about children’s poetry. I came across an article that compared poetry written by very young children to poetry written by older high school students. Here are some of the examples of poems written by 3-6 graders:

“The life of my heart is crimson.”

[Writing about a family member’s recent death:]
My brother went down/ to the river
and put dirt on.

Peace be a song,
silver pool of sadness

Away went a dull winter wind
that rocked harshly, and bent you said,
“Father, father”.

[Writing about a terminal illness:]
I am feeling burdened
and I taste milk……
I mumble, “Please,
please run away.”
But it lives where I live.

The owls of midnight hoot like me
shutting the door to nothing.

From the Poetry Foundation, Hannah Gamble writes:

These young writers are addressing subjects that still obsess poets fifty years older: sadness, death, love, responsibility, aging, family, loneliness, and refuge…and they are addressing these subjects in language that is new, and thus has the power to emotionally affect a well-seasoned (/jaded) reader. The average fourth grader is able to do this because she hasn’t been alive long enough to know how to do it (and by “it” I mean talk about the world) any other way.

Now, compare these to poems written by high school students:

Snacking on this and that
my friends and I keep the party going
even when it is over

Barack Obama in the White House.
I can feel the inspiration
Can you feel it?

Now I feel secure with my head held high.

These new ones sound so boring. It is clear that by the time students reach high school, they are now engaged in a game that is very different from the elementary and middle schoolers. That game is group signaling. The high schoolers have learned the language and content that should appeal to others in a bland and predictable manner, whereas the younger writers are using novel expressions and word choice to describe how they feel individually. Their “approval seeking” default mode is not as developed as a high schooler. This makes the younger writers much more compelling.