Have you ever thought you could exchange poems instead of gifts? That’s what we do on Hannukah. We exchange poems instead of gifts.
I have something of a love hate relationship with poetry. I think reading poetry is good for your brain, I love evocative writing, and trying to understand a poem helps slow you down, but I struggle to make time to actually do it.
When I have time to read for fun, I like fast-paced novels, compelling memoirs, and meaningful nonfiction. I have some favorite poets, like Emily Dickinson, ee cummings, and Robert Frost, but I don’t spend a lot of time reading them.
Except in the winter.
In our family we celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah. So on Hanukkah we don’t give gifts. Instead we eat latkes with homemade applesauce and yogurt and we exchange poems instead of gifts. We gather up all our poetry books, bring them to the table, and take turns reading our favorite poems out loud.
Exchange poems instead of gifts
My kids have memorized many poems over the years, partly because of our holiday tradition of reading poems out loud.
This poem has generated furrowed brows and interesting conversations in our house.
See what your children make of it:
On a dark, dark day in the middle of the night, two dead boys got up to fight.
Back to back they faced each other, drew their swords and shot each other.
A deaf policeman, who heard the noise, ran and shot the two dead boys.
If you don’t believe my story’s true, ask the blind man. He saw it too.
Our family’s favorite books of poems include:
Talking Like the Rain: the illustrations by Jane Dyer are as wonderful and beautiful as the poems themselves.
Everything On It by Shel Silverstein: these poems are so much fun, and lend themselves to being read and recited over and over again.
The Poetry of Robert Frost: I got this as a gift for my high school graduation from my soccer coach, who has remained a lifelong friend. This is a book I cherish and go back to again and again.
(Note to parents with children of all ages: a beautiful, hardcover poetry book makes an excellent graduation gift.)
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First published: May 9, 2011
Updated: November 29, 2021
Peter Chordas says
Anything that is thought provoking, even if nonesensical, is good. And challenging the brain to memorize things is also good. I think poems are an important part of learning and I wish schools would go back to learning and memorizing poems.
Once in the forest as black as pitch
My brother met a wicked old witch!
The witch croaked, “I’m glad to meecha!”
You’re just in time for me to eatcha!”
But my brother didn’t fraid ol’ worry.
He didn’t turn his back and scurry.
Instead, he gave his sailor pants a hitch-up
And then he quietly ate the witch-up!
But if he had acted cowardly, wobbly,
The witch would have eaten him up, probably.
– Ogden Nash (as I learned it 43 years ago)
Alex Pimentel says
I think the line is “My brother didn’t fret or worry”
I had an lp (!?) of Peter Ustenov reciting poems of Ogden Nash on one side and The Nutcracker Suite on the other. It was called “Between Birthdays”
I had this same album! To this day those poems & playing that album are among my fondest childhood memories!
Jennifer Margulis says
That Ogden Nash reminds me of one of our favorites, Peter, called “I Eat Kids Yum Yum.” By Dennis Lee. You can watch the girls performing it here:
Here’s how it goes:
I EAT KIDS YUM YUM!
A child went out one day.
She only went to play.
A mighty monster came along
And sang its might monster song:
“I EAT KIDS YUM YUM!
I STUFF THEM DOWN MY TUM.
I ONLY LEAVE THE TEETH AND CLOTHES.
(I SPECIALLY LIKE THE TOES.)”
The child was not amused.
She stood there and refused.
Then with a skip and a little twirl
She sang the song of a hungry girl:
“I EAT MONSTERS BURP!
THEY MAKE ME SQUEAL AND SLURP.
IT’S TIME TO CHOMP AND TAKE A CHEW–
AND WHAT I’ll CHEW IS YOU!”
The monster ran like that!
It didn’t stop to chat.
(The child went skipping home again
And ate her brother’s model train.)
And I agree that memorizing poetry is good for developing brains. In Hesperus’s Waldorf school they do a lot of memorization but in the public schools they almost never read poetry and seldom learn anything by heart…