Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Popcorn and Poetry Night 2014

This was our second year hosting a family Popcorn and Poetry Night.  It's still a little early to call it an "annual tradition," but I think we're on our way there!  (here's the post on the first P&P Night last year.)

Perhaps you're familiar with the myriad benefits of memorizing poetry:

Introduce your children to the beauty of literature through the doorway of poetry. [It will] enrich vocabulary while infusing reliably correct and sophisticated English language patterns into students' minds.  (So says Andrew Pudewa of the Institute for Excellence in Writing.)

Memorization also builds into children’s minds an ability to understand and use complex English syntax. The student who memorizes poetry will internalize rhythmic, beautiful patterns of English language. These patterns have become part of the student’s “language store,” those wells of language that we all use every day in writing and speaking. Without memorization, the student’s “language store” will contain only those phrases and patterns which he hears over and over again — the language patterns that your family uses every day. But memorization “stocks” the language store with a whole new set of language patterns.  (from Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Bauer at The Well Trained Mind.)

And this...

It is not only the form of poetry—its rhyme and meter—that endows it with unique educative properties. Just as crucial is its content. Poetry’s power makes it the ideal medium to introduce kids to their cultural inheritance as members of Western civilization and citizens of a particular nation. The content of the poetry fosters what education reformer E. D. Hirsch, Jr. calls “cultural literacy” in the kids who get it by heart, since great poetry is so often a pithy expression of the culture’s accumulated wisdom. Not to have certain works of art in your mental inventory—Macbeth, for example, or “Ozymandias” or Psalm 23—is to be shut out, to some degree, from the community of civilized conversation.  (from "In Defense of Memorization," a fabulous article by Michael Knox Beran for the City Journal.  Read it.  It's good.) (emphasis my own)

I'm a believer.  I buy into ALL of it.  But I'm not sure my kids have internalized the overwhelming importance of what they're doing.  I know because sometimes Popcorn and Poetry night looks like this...

But for the most part it was delightful. If I've learned anything from two year's worth of P&P it's these two things (1) save the popcorn for after the poetry recitations are done and (2) if you want video of your children reciting, do not record their recitations on poetry night.  I finally realized this after two years.  The main reason is that fiddling wiht the camera prevents my from being an actively listening participant.  Also, the camera can make the kids go a little ape-y (see above.)  If you want the recitations on video, I think it's best to record them during your "rehearsals."  Other than that,  there's not much else I can tell you.  The name is self explanatory.  Here's how it all unfolded this year...

the sign that said "Welcome to Popcorn and Poetry Night" before Clare
stealthily approached it and fixed it with her skilled fingers.

Some of these movies were from actual poetry night, and others were take after the fact!  (See tip #2 above.)  Aaron recited To Meet Mr. Lincoln by Eve Merriam, and Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost.  Dominic recited The Woodpeckers by Douglas Florian, and The Land of Counterpane by Robert Louis Stevenson, Ruth recited The Daddy Longlegs by Douglas Florian, and Morning Prayer by Ogden Nash.  The boys recited In Flanders Fields by John McCrea together.  

white chocolate party popcorn / dark chocolate w/ sea salt popcorn / traditional salted popcorn

*   *   *   *   *   * 

I love the poems we memorized this year so much.   I decided to include the text here in case you're in the market for some memory work poems appropriate for elementary age kids.  

To Meet Mr. Lincoln
Eve Merriam

If I lived at the time
That Mr. Lincoln did,
And I met Mr. Lincoln
With his stovepipe lid

And his coalblack cape
And his thundercloud beard,
And a worn and sad-eyed
He appeared:

“Don’t worry, Mr. Lincoln,”
I’d reach up and pat his hand,
“We’ve got a fine President
For this land;

And the Union will be saved,
And the slaves will go free;
And you will live forever
In our nation’s memory.”

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Robert Frost
Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

The Woodpeckers
Douglas Florian

Woodpeckers are peck-uliar things.
They pick to peck, but not to sing
They rap, and tap for sap in trees,
'Till some they drum look like swiss cheese.

They thump on stumps of rotting wood,
To gobble insects.
Tastes good.

The Land of Counterpane
Robert Louis Stevenson

When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay,
To keep me happy all the day.

And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.

I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.

The Daddy Longlegs
Douglas Florian

O Daddy, Daddy-o
How'd you get those legs to grow?
So very long and lean in size,
With spider-obic exercise?
Did you drink milk?
Or chew on cheese?
And by the way,
Where are your knees?
O Daddy, Daddy-o
How'd you get those legs to grow?

Morning Prayer
Ogden Nash

Now another day is breaking,
Sleep was sweet and so is waking.
Dear Lord, I promised you last night
Never again to sulk or fight.
Such vows are easier to keep
When a child is sound asleep.
Today, O Lord, for your dear sake,
I'll try to keep them when awake.

In Flanders Fields
John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


  1. Okay, we MUST plan something next year. Or next fall. It's the only way I will be motivated enough with the poetry!

    1. We could try for sometime this summer?!?! Only it seems like everyone is always so bust this time of year. People are busy at every time of year, come to think of it. We'll talk and maybe can plan something soon!

  2. Convincing post!! Love the poem selections....

  3. Theresa, Did you know that the tradition of the Veterans to make and distribute the little poppies on Memorial/Veterans day was created by a woman (whose name I can't remember) based on that poem Flanders Field? Looks like it was a lovely evening...Loved the Daddy Long legs~~~ Aunt Claire

    1. Thanks for the trivia tidbit, Aunt Claire! Maybe we can have a poetry night round two next time you're able to visit and you can join in!

  4. I love this! I remember reading about your P&P event last year and it sounds like this year was a smashing success as well. I especially love the quote you pulled, "Poetry's power makes it the ideal medium to introduce kids to their cultural inheritance as members of Western civilization." That's so beautifully put. I'm gonna stow that away for later. :)

    1. Thanks you! That whole article was very good! It really convicted me =)

  5. Your kids are all amazing! Memorizing poems that long and in depth?! Now next year you have to showcase their latin poetry skills;)


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