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Obligatory Cute Little Kids Reciting Poetry

Publication Date: 2010-08-29

I have some regrets that memorizing poems is a lost art, but seeing some of the YouTube performances below rather smothers that regret.

Okay, my claim to fame is that I recited "The Night Before Christmas" when I was two. On demand. Friends of my parents arrived one night when I was already asleep. They'd brought out-of-town guests. "They don't believe us," they told my parents.

Thank god there was no YouTube in those days. Something between friends gets distorted when blasted on the Internet.

So my parents got me up and I did the obligatory recitation and went back to bed.

When I was 10, the teacher assigned us the task of memorizing a poem,so I began looking for a long poem. The longest one I could find was Henry Wadsworth Longellow's "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere." I can still hear that 10-year-old voice in my ear, and it is a monotone, droning on and on. My teacher made my class sit and listen--to the whole thing. I feel the urge to find everyone of my classmates and apologize.

That was the last time I ever memorized anything--except for a short poem by Paul Verlaine in French class:

Il pleure dans mon coeur
Comme il pleut sur la ville;
Quelle est cette langueur
Qui pénètre mon coeur? . . .

I admit that I wish could call up more poems at will. I rather admire people who can launch into Gilbert & Sullivan lyrics to spark up a conversation or call up Elizabeth Coatsworth during a thurderstorm:
. . . through the pane
we'll stand and watch the circus pageant
of the rain,
and see the lightening, like a tiger,
striped and dread,
and hear the thunder cross the shaken sky
with elephant tread.

But something that starts out cute with little kids gets tedious and then even appalling when it's an out-of-kilter school assignment for a first grader. And quite awful when it is clearly a transfer of parental ego. The first presentation below was billed "obligatory cute recitation by a three-year-old" by an education reporter, and, hey, this little boy, is cute:

  • Three-Year-Old Reciting Billy Collins

  • Billy Collins reciting the same poem

  • Three-Year-Old recites Alfred, Lord Tennyson

  • Five-year-old Reciting Walt Whitman

  • child practicing Whitman for school recitation

  • More school Whitman

  • five year old reciting Whitman

  • There are tons more. I can't quite figure out why people would do this to their kids.

    Finally, enjoy one more from Billy Collins:

    Child Development

    As sure as prehistoric fish grew legs
    and sauntered off the beaches into forests
    working up some irregular verbs for their
    first conversation, so three-year-old children
    enter the phase of name-calling.

    Every day a new one arrives and is added
    to the repertoire. You Dumb Goopyhead,
    You Big Sewerface, You Poop-on-the-Floor
    (a kind of Navaho ring to that one)
    they yell from knee level, their little mugs
    flushed with challenge.
    Nothing Samuel Johnson would bother tossing out
    in a pub, but then the toddlers are not trying
    to devastate some fatuous Enlightenment hack.

    They are just tormenting their fellow squirts
    or going after the attention of the giants
    way up there with their cocktails and bad breath
    talking baritone nonsense to other giants,
    waiting to call them names after thanking
    them for the lovely party and hearing the door close.

    The mature save their hothead invective
    for things: an errant hammer, tire chains,
    or receding trains missed by seconds,
    though they know in their adult hearts,
    even as they threaten to banish Timmy to bed
    for his appalling behavior,
    that their bosses are Big Fatty Stupids,
    their wives are Dopey Dopeheads
    and that they themselves are Mr. Sillypants.

    It's a pity show-off parents don't assign this poem to their three-year-olds, who would enjoy saying You Dumb Goopyhead, You Big Sewerface, You Poop-on-the-Floor.

    Maybe we should have an "Name Arne" contest, using You Dumb Goopyhead, You Big Sewerface, You Poop-on-the-Floor as warmups.

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