Poetry's Decline?

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This past summer, my three siblings and I began to clear out some items from my parents' house. Our mom died in April, 2008, but we hadn't been ready to disturb, at least individually, what she'd left behind. But there was one summer day when my brother from Maryland and I from Long Island were all together in Upstate New York, where our other two siblings live, and it was decided then that we take what we wanted while in each other's presence.

I immediately headed over to a cubby filled with dusty, musty and water-stained books, and my siblings agreed I should be the one to take them, which is how I ended up with a copy of The Children's First Book of Poetry (American Book Company). I'm sure I'd leafed through the book when I was a child, but it was more the memory of my mother reciting any number of poems that I cherished. She was a woman with little self-esteem, as though she had no right to take up any space on this planet of ours, so it was a delight to see how pleased she'd become when she recited the first line of a poem to the last without stumbling. I remember how she'd quote Frost and Kilmer and then lament how children were no longer taught to memorize poetry in order to better appreciate it. I'm sure it was she who inspired a love of words in me. I miss my mother and I miss hearing her recite, "I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree," and I will certainly treasure the book she once owned.

Curiously, this is the introduction from that book:

"We hear much nowadays about the decline of poetry. No one reads poetry any more. Poets cannot make a living. The world has ceased to express its ideals in verse."

Did I mention that the copyright date from that book is 1915, long before my mother expressed her displeasure with the lack of attention given to poetry? I'm not sure who said it first, but it's true that sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Fortunately, though, verses and iambic pentameters still are able to touch our core and that could not be any more clear thanks to the recent publication of The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), the poems selected by U.S. Children's Poet Laureate, Mary Ann Hoberman, and cultural anthropologist and teacher, Linda Winston. The poetry is a collection celebrating our world while reminding us that we are its keepers. As I browsed through the 100 or more poems, I'd occasionally stop and read, thinking, Mom would like that one or that one wouldn't make much sense to her, and smile with the thought.

There was one poem in particular by Felice Holman that reminded me of my mother.

Who Am I?

The trees ask me,

And the sky,

And the sea asks me,

Who am I?

The grass asks me,

And the sand,

And the rocks ask me,

Who I am.

The wind tells me

At nightfall,

And the rain tells me.

Someone small.

Someone small

Someone small

But a piece

The book also comes with an audio CD with many of the poets reading their work, Linda Winston, reading the above poem. It is a treat to hear their intonations, pauses and how they caress the phrasing. Yet, I have to admit, if I could choose, I'd much rather hear my mother's recitations.