MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
Think back and remember what it felt like to be little and to become enchanted with reading, with language. Rita Dove remembers in her poem "The First Book."
(Soundbite of "The First Book")
Ms. RITA DOVE (Poet): (Reading) Open it. Go ahead, it won't bite. Well, maybe a little. More a nip like, a tingle. It's pleasurable really. You see, it keeps on opening. You may fall in. Sure, it's hard to get started. Remember learning to use knife and fork? Dig in. You'll never reach bottom. It's not like at the end of the world, just the world as you think you know it.
BLOCK: That's Rita Dove with the first poem in a collection titled "Poetry Speaks to Children." And it does speak on an included CD with many of the authors reading their work. Elise Paschen is a poet in Chicago. She got to choose the poems in the book.
Ms. ELISE PASCHEN (Poet): We say it's for children six years and up, and we're discovering by hearing back from parents and teachers, librarians, booksellers that it actually appeals to children, you know, almost two years and up and not only that, it really appeals to adults because I think that you can read these poems on all levels.
BLOCK: I have a great time listening to Carl Sandburg read on the audio CD. This is a poem, "On a Flimmering Floom You Shall Ride."
(Soundbite of "On a Flimmering Floom You Shall Ride")
Mr. CARL SANDBURG (Poet): (Reading) Nobody noogers the shaff of a sloo. Nobody slimbers a wimch with a wimch. The veedles, armed each with a needle and each the flimdraff of a smee, each the imbitty hum of a smoo. Then sloan me darst with the flagdarst and creep me deep with the crawlbright. Let idle winds tloodaddle the dorshes. And you in the gold of the gloaming, you shall be sloam with the whoolriffs. On a flimmering floom you shall ride. They shall tell you bidish and desist. On a flimmering floom you shall ride.(ph)
BLOCK: I love that `the imbitty hum of the smoo.'
Ms. PASCHEN: Yes. Well, this is a wonderful nonsense poem that we included in the book. This poem, I think, is a good example of what I was discussing because it was actually first published in Poetry Magazine and it was written to the poet MacLeish.
BLOCK: Is this Archibald MacLeish?
Ms. PASCHEN: Yes, yes. He was actually appointed assistant secretary of State, and obviously Carl Sandburg wrote this poem, you know, when he was giving testimony before he served as assistant secretary of State. He served for one year.
BLOCK: So a whole different meaning than we might be thinking here.
Ms. PASCHEN: Exactly, exactly. So my case in point...
BLOCK: There's such incredible music in his read.
Ms. PASCHEN: It--there is, and I love the lilting musicality of it. The other thing that I'm--you know, I enjoy about this book and I can see my children enjoying is just the range of voices that you play the CD and you hear "On a Flimmering Floom You Shall Ride" and he's, you know, singing it. And then you hear Gwendolyn Brooks reciting with her wonderful rhythms.
BLOCK: You realize as you're listening to the CD not every poet necessarily is a good reader of their poems. But Gwendolyn Brooks is an amazing, amazing performer.
(Soundbite of poem)
Ms. GWENDOLYN BROOKS (Poet): (Reading) ...and a saddened eye and in spite of his love, he took off each glove and agreed this was meant all to prevail. Each tiger content with his lashing tail and satisfied with his strong, striped hide.
BLOCK: Where did you find the recording of J.R.R. Tolkien? He's reading from a poem that's in "The Fellowship of the Rings." It's "Frodo's Song in Bree."
Ms. PASCHEN: That actually--I was researching in England and they said to me actually there is the J.R.R. Tolkien audio collection. And I was able just to order that over the Internet and I was sitting in my living room. I think our son was then two years old and I was playing the entire CD listening again--listening to figure out what would be the best audio recording. And he started dancing to this one and I thought, `OK, that's the one we're going to have to go with.'
BLOCK: Well, that's a good sign.
(Soundbite of "Frodo's Song in Bree")
Mr. J.R.R. TOLKIEN (Author): (Reading) With a ping and a pong the fiddle-strings broke. The cow jumped over the moon. The little dog laughed to see such fun, and the Saturday dish went off at a run with the silver Sunday spoon. The round moon rolled behind the hill, as the sun raised up her head. She hardly believed her fiery eyes, for though it was day, to her surprise, they all went back to bed.
Ms. PASCHEN: And this is Frodo. It's actually from the first book in Tolkien's trilogy, "The Lord of the Rings," and he is performing this in Bree at the pub, at the Sign of the Prancing Pony. And when he finishes reciting this poem he falls off the table and disappears with the help of the ring. And if you hear and read the poem in its entirety, you'll see that the song is presumably the uncorrupted original of the nursery rhyme "Hey, Diddle Diddle, the Cat and the Fiddle."
BLOCK: I'm especially fond of these older recordings, but there are modern recordings, too. And there's a--there's one from Billy Collins, his poem called "On Turning Ten," which is such an interesting take on a child who's 10 already feeling like he's a little bit past his prime.
(Soundbite of "On Turning Ten")
Mr. BILLY COLLINS (Poet): (Reading) This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself, as I walk through the universe in my sneakers. It is time to say goodbye to my imaginary friends, time to turn the first big number. It seems like only yesterday. I used to believe there was nothing under my skin but light. If you cut me, I would shine. But now, when I fall upon the sidewalks of life, I skin my knees. I bleed.
Ms. PASCHEN: There's a funny story behind this poem. I actually heard Billy. He has a new book out and he was giving a reading here for The Poetry Foundation in Chicago. He is amused by the fact that so many poets write poems on turning a cardinal number. You know, on turning 40, on turning 50, it's an occasion for a poet to write a poem. So he thought, you know what? I'm going to write a poem about--on turning 10. And so that's where the poem started, but I think it took him to a different place and I think, you know, he's quite fond of the poem itself. And to me it strikes a chord because I remember being little and I remember thinking, `Boy, if I turn 10, that's going to be--you know, I'm going to be really old when I turn 10.'
BLOCK: Elise Paschen is editor of the book and CD "Poetry Speaks to Children." You can read and hear more poems from the collection, including Roald Dahl's "The Dentist and the Crocodile," at npr.org.
BLOCK: I'm Melissa Block.
NORRIS: And I'm Michele Norris. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
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