Waking Up on the Right Side of the Poetry Bed

Bring me all of your dreams, you dreamers, that I may take them and wrap them in a blue cloud cloth, away from the too rough fingers of the world.

~ Langston Hughes

I read somewhere, long ago, that award-winning poet Naomi Shihab Nye not only read her son to sleep, but also read him awake. Here’s the quote I saved: “It is precious for me having poetry be the first thing that rolls off my tongue toward our son every day. I usually read three or four poems, slowly, resonantly, beside his bed.

This image of a mother reading poems to her son “slowly, resonantly, beside his bed” has stayed with me ever since. I have always thought of reading aloud time as any time, but the idea of reading my child awake had never crossed my mind. And yet, how incredibly beautiful and simple: to plant seeds in their sleepy minds that will grow throughout the waking day. Throughout life.

The morning bedtime approach gives a whole new meaning to the idea of bedtime stories: the words and their rhythm seeping slowly into children’s minds, without resistance. T.S. Eliot said that the meaning of the poem is provided to keep the mind busy while the poem gets on with its work. So if the mind is busy dreaming, or caught between alertness and dream state, poetry’s “work”—to nourish, to fortify, to inspire children on their path to emotional literacy—can be done more easily.

This is a far subtler idea than reading to snoring kids. I think we can all celebrate the recognition that sharing poetry with young ones can happen at any time and that many children could use some help waking up on the right side of the poetry bed, so to speak.

So lay your love of language on the line, during Poetry Month and beyond, and watch those dreamers rise up and shine. Young people’s love of poetry may not happen overnight. Or ever. But it could.