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Where's The Children's Poetry Section?

I have been wandering into bookshops in search of poetry for most of my adult life. As an educator, I acquire poetry books to better position myself to teach poetry. As a poet, I need poetry books to deepen my understanding of how poetry works. I am constantly searching for poetry’s vital spark. I am committed to this quest. Poetry is my writing oxygen.

But sadly in so many of my poetry searches I have come away empty handed and somewhat disillusioned. In the vast majority of bookshops  you will not find a designated section for children’s poetry. When poetry titles are offered, they are more than likely classic rhyming verse and frequently sitting among the general collection of picture books. 

Little wonder kids only think of poetry as something that rhymes. They develop a narrow interpretation of poetry because that is what they are being fed.  Rarely do you find contemporary content. The landscape is barren and degraded. A smattering of imported poetry books appear on occasions, but it is rare to find new local product, apart from an occasional anthology of selected verse curated by a lone flag bearer.

There is a paucity of poetry out there folks. Publishers appear to be risk averse. Even educational publishers tend to devote scant attention to children’s poetry. Bookshop shelves bulge with fantasy and dystopian titles. Endless offerings of ghouls, goblins, witches, fairies and zombies exist. Realistic fiction and poetry have been pushed quite consciously to the margins. Publishers maintain control over the reading diets of young readers. Our children deserve greater diversity in their reading. 

Various Verse Novels

So, even though poetry features in the Australian curriculum and is studied extensively in our schools, finding a selection of children’s poetry in bookstores is often a dispiriting experience.  Rare sightings suggest poetry has assumed a position akin to an endangered species.

Having taught poetry for many decades, I know kids enjoy it. I know they embrace it once they discover that poetry is accessible and user friendly. They enthusiastically read it, create it, and seek it out. It is a sad fact that poetry is badly served by adult prejudice and apprehension. Such notions feed the misguided belief that poetry is elitist, or inaccessible. Such notions result in poetry experiences that venture no further than haiku and acrostics, because sadly that is the limit of teacher comfort.

I have curated my personal collection of poetry books by means of diligent detective work across many years. A tireless search has been conducted in bookshops the world over. I have  sought to nourish my poet’s heart. Searching on-line has sometimes uncovered treasured poetry titles. I have unearthed gems in second hand book stores, and because I am known for my poetic proclivities, have frequently been alerted to, or gifted books by benefactors, bless them. 

My poet’s suitcase contains forensic evidence of my poetic gathering across the decades. Poetry sings to me from my bookshelves. I concur with the words of Rita Dove who said, ‘Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.’ Reason enough to let it into my life.

Every time I visit a library -school or community, I rummage through the poetry titles hoping to unearth new books. Occasionally, I glean new possibilities, sometimes though, the titles on display indicate few new titles have been added for some considerable time. Poetry has fallen off the radar in such places.

As a poet I am speaking from a position of self-interest, but I am also advocating for the right of all those potential young poets out there who deserve to access poetry should they so desire. They deserve the option of selecting poetry books when they visit a book shop. 

So, I am urging all poetry lovers, young and not so young to ask the following questions when browsing in their local bookshop. ‘Excuse me, would you kindly tell me where the poetry section is located? And if they say, ‘There isn’t one’, ask them ‘How come?’ There’s no rhyme or reason why we can’t effect some poetic justice.


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