Week Three selection to foster poetry appreciation

Leah Rankin | Staff Writer

“I am the Pablo bird,
bird of a single feather,
I fly in the clear shadows
and the confused light.”

These are the words of Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. A writer with a strong political opinion, Neruda was originally Neftalí Reyes but changed his name to save his father the embarrassment of having a poet for a son.

At 4:15 p.m. today in the Garden Room at Alumni Hall, the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Young Readers Program will meet to discuss author Pam Muñoz Ryan’s fictitious biography of the young Pablo Neruda titled The Dreamer.

Several local Chautauquan writers have been invited to share their poetry with Young Readers and take part in a discussion about why they love poetry.

“Everybody, whether they know it or not, loves poetry,” said Georgia Court, one of the visiting poets. “Children naturally love poetry because of the natural rhythms of the language.”

Court is a retired professor of English composition and owns a bookstore in Sarasota, Fla. She also had a career in journalism, where she learned the refined economy of words that is so special to poetry. She often hosts poetry slams in her bookstore and believes that poetry is coming back into fashion.

She once attended a workshop with the poet Frank X. Gaspar, who taught her that poetry, like music, comes from the body.

“It was almost like he was teaching singing,” Court said.

Court said that children grow up reading the poetry of writers like Shel Silverstein, but that poetry becomes a homework assignment in high school when kids are forced to scrutinize Shakespeare sonnets and the poetry of John Donne and Robert Frost.

She said it seems like everybody has to like the same classic poets. But for Court, poetry is more personal.

“As long as I like it, nobody else has to,” Court said.

These are the same sentiments shared by the young Neftalí in The Dreamer. Neftalí, a skinny, stuttering boy who likes to collect twigs and acorns, is scorned by his father for being a daydreamer. His father calls him “absent-minded” and a “fanatic” and tells his son that he should be a doctor or a businessman instead of a writer.

So Neftalí writes in secret. He eventually leaves for college in Santiago and spends every day scribbling poetry. He always wrote in green ink, which was his color for hope. He changed his name to Pablo Neruda, and in 1971, when he was 67 years old, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Jack Voelker, director of the Department of Recreation and Youth Services, said that perseverance is an important lesson for readers to learn.

“It’s a powerful storyline for Young Readers to consider,” Voelker said. “Perseverance is difficult, but it has its own rewards.”

Voelker said that it is not uncommon for the Young Readers Program to include poetry. It provides a unique and interesting way to tell a story.

Voelker said he agrees with Court that adults lose interest in poetry after having to dissect the language in high school. So he tries to choose poetry-related books for the program that are purely entertaining.

“I love for the kids to be exposed to poetry in a non-academic way,” Voelker said.

Today’s program will celebrate poetry with people who love to read and write their own poems while sharing the important lesson of perseverance with The Dreamer.