I sat in the filled-to-capacity Dryden Theatre on May 16 with friends --- moms, dads, teenagers, and 520 strangers --- eagerly awaiting Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the United States. Katherine, one of my young friends, looking at a brochure of current Dryden events, pointed to a picture of Kirk Douglas, and asked, "Is this Billy Collins?" It's no surprise that Katherine didn't know Billy Collins' face; he's a poet, after all.
Few Americans read poetry these days, but Billy Collins and current Poet Laureate Ted Kooser are changing that.
Collins has edited two anthologies of contemporary, accessible poems: Poetry 180: a Turning Back to Poetry and 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day. The poems in these collections explore subjects of interest to readers of all ages.
Ted Kooser brings poetry to the people too. Through his American Life in Poetry Project, he offers one poem each week, by different poets, to newspapers, free of charge. "As Poet Laureate," Kooser says, "I want to show the people who read newspapers that poetry can be for them, can give them a smile or an insight."
These two poets have also published collections of their own work and prove that anyone can enjoy contemporary poetry.
As we drove home from the Billy Collins reading, Ellyn, our older daughter, shared this insight: "Reading poetry is like flossing your teeth. If you don't do it often, it's painful. If you do it regularly, it's not so bad."
Go to www.americanlifeinpoetry.org to receive Ted Kooser's weekly article electronically.
--- Marjorie Sangster Rolleston
Brighton Memorial Library storytimes: Mondays 10 a.m. (ages 3-4), 10:30 a.m. (ages 1-2.5); Thursdays 7 p.m. (families) | 2300 Elmwood Avenue. 784-5300, www.brightonlibrary.org
Father's Leadership Academy Thursdays, May 26-June 29. Parent Center, 30 Hart St, Rm 126, 6-8 p.m. Free. Register. 262-8456
Henrietta Public Library storytimes: Wednesdays 10:30 a.m. (preschool). | 455 Calkins Rd. 359-7092
I'm Beautiful Essay Contest for girls ages 11-17. Deadline: May 31. 482-6910
RPO Tiny Tots Concert for ages 3-6. Fri, May 27, Cultural Life Center, Roberts Wesleyan College, 9:45 and 11:15 a.m. | Tues, May 31, Hochstein, 50 N Plymouth Ave, 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. | 454-7311, www.rpo.org
Summer Arts in Action Program Scholarships summer arts camp for ages 4-12, Hochstein School. 454-4596, www.hochstein.org
"Stranger Danger" is a popular saying. We teach it to keep our children safe. It's easy to remember... and wrong. Are all strangers dangerous? Do safe strangers dress or talk or act like us? Doesn't "stranger danger" teach racial, economic, and cultural prejudice? Statistically, strangers are safer than people we know.
The US Department of Health and Human Services reports about 900,000 of our nation's children are abused each year (and abuse is underreported by an estimated 60 percent). That's over 100 kids an hour. Every day 4 children are killed by their abusers. About 96 percent of abusers are family members or care providers. Strangers don't wound most kids. They are scarred forever by those they trust.
We don't need our children to be scared of everybody. We need to instill a right to privacy. "Nobody --- not Mom, Dad, teachers, doctors, priests, or strangers--- is ever allowed to scare, hurt, or embarrass me, or make me keep bad secrets." Parents can model this by first knocking on children's doors, respecting children's modesty, and requesting their own privacy. We invest in our children's safety by teaching them to introduce themselves and converse respectfully with people they don't know... yet. Our children can learn to say, "Excuse me, that's private."
We all want secure kids, but security won't come from seeing a world of strangers or being scared of everybody. It derives from self-respect, self-esteem, and the inner strength to refuse personal threats. When our sons and daughters grow up with those qualities, they also value the gift of intimacy.
--- Laurence I. Sugarman, MD