- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 23, 2006

Most writers love words, and I think I have an extreme case of that appreciation. I am in awe that there are sounds and symbols that can be put together to mean something. What a magical thing we have — a way to communicate our ideas and experiences using these agreed-upon sounds and symbols.

Of course, language can be used to communicate anything from tenderness to rage, from practical information to esoteric ideas. That is why many of our art forms involve language: literature, drama and even comedy, for instance.

A resurgence of appreciation and use of language is taking place through the phenomenon of “spoken word.” Young people are coming together to share their original poetry, raps or storytelling in venues from coffeehouses to living rooms. Sometimes read, sometimes recited, the pieces vary from rhymed to free verse but usually share a richness of description and emotion.

This is not your grandmother’s poetry corner, with decorous verses extolling the glories of flowers and trees and a nice sunset. The artists speak from their world, their souls and their journeys — and the results are sometimes painful, sometimes victorious, sometimes reassuring — but their eloquence is unmistakable.

This movement is significant, arising phoenixlike out of the ashes of a culture that has ignored and denigrated language skills. This is not without precedent. In the Dark Ages, when literacy was rare, minstrels and poets traveled, sharing news and spreading the stories of great persons and deeds. Even those who lack the ability to read and write are hungry for words that inform and nourish their souls. Is it surprising, then, that youth who are fed only by the junk-food culture would crave the experience of sharing words that are powerful, energizing and personal?

Another plus: This is an art form anyone can enjoy. You don’t have to pay $15 to attend a poetry slam — you can do this in your own living room. Bring your children and their friends together. Give them a topic or just start a discussion. Ask them to work on some pieces. You can do it as well — create your own piece.

As your poets gain experience and confidence, they develop a deeper sense of the value of language. Learning vocabulary becomes exciting. Playing with the cadence and the patterns of speech becomes automatic. Children learn elements such as alliteration or metaphor along the way by creating and using them rather than by memorizing a description and learning to identify them in someone else’s poems.

If anything, this creates a new appreciation for the classical works and the opportunity to let children fall in love with the great poetry of the past. Once the world of words is opened and they know their own process of creation within it, they can really listen, really hear the word portraits of others as well.

If you have a chance, start exploring the spoken-word events that might be taking place in your community. A bit of research is necessary to make sure the events reflect values with which you are comfortable — as with any art form, there is a vast range of themes and content, and some spoken word is rife with anger, profanity or inappropriate messages. If you and your children find artists you enjoy, invite them to an event you create. You could arrange for a good location, invite some guests and set up a theme. Then, you just need a microphone and maybe one emcee. Refreshments are always a good idea, but they can be simple.

Creativity is both the result and the stimulus of an educational lifestyle. Let’s turn off the TV, the IPod and the video games and turn on the human brains. Boredom can’t get a toehold when young minds are engaged — and learning becomes automatic.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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