Sunday, July 24, 2011

And now on to Literacy

Let’s go from the last series of columns, developing a math mind, to understanding what we can do to create a poet laureate! You may have done a double take when you read those last two words, poet laureate, and wondered why this is something I believe is important.
Last Friday evening I had the great pleasure of meeting and listening to a former poet laureate of Wisconsin, Denise Sweet, along with other regional writers. As I listened to the readings, I was struck with the musicality of the language, the importance of the topics they chose to write about, and the purely enjoyable experience of hearing well-crafted writings. All of us in our local Writers’ Exchange aspire to this quality of writing.
But where does it start­this great talent and skill? It starts, of course, in the womb. The fetus at about 5 months hears not only all the sounds of the mother’s internal organs, but also the words she is saying. Her own speech comes through more clearly than the external sounds such as the television or a lawnmower. Why should this be important for us? It is important because in this stage of fetal development the brain is developing, preparing the baby for learning language in the stage after birth.
Learning language follows a developmental sequence in all human beings. Auditory receptive language comes first. We hear and understand the words that are said to us. Verbal expressive language is next. We learn to talk in order to communicate with others. With those two abilities we move on to learning to read. Reading is based upon the ability to decode visual symbols and take meaning from them. Finally, the highest order of language is possible. To put everything together, putting the pencil to paper and creating our own stories and poems.
On September 22nd, Bruce Dethlefson, Wisconsin’s current poet laureate, will be in Ladysmith. I hope you will come and experience the English language in its most beautiful form. In closing today’s column, I would like to share a quote from Bruce, “if a novel is winter, and a short story is a snow storm, then a poem is a snowball, squeezed.”
In keeping with the previous quote, but completely out of season, I give you this children’s poem.

Merry little snowflakes,
Dancing in the air
Busy little snowflakes,
Dancing everywhere!

Blowing in our faces
Falling at our feet
And kissing all the children
As they run along the street!

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