Poems by Children is by John Rybicki, who collected poems from some of his third and fourth grade students, located in Chicago and Detroit. The first thing you notice about these poems is how simplistic each one is on the page, which gives an air of sophistication that we know third and fourth graders lack. The fact that these kids can think of the world in such a beautiful way is what strikes the reader throughout reading these magnificent poems. Sure, Rybicki molded them to look like poems and probably line edited most of them, but he didn’t change the meaning behind the lines themselves. My main question was how do you even get children at that age to write a poem? My approach probably wouldn’t have been, “Ok kids, write me a poem” because surely these kids don’t understand the complexities of forming an actual poem. But I do believe that I would ask these children different questions that we, as adults, have trouble answering. What do you think a soul is? Where do you go when you die? How did war begin? What is God? These children seem to bring life to the words used throughout their poems. The best part about these poems is the innocence that lies dormant inside each belief located within these poems.
“I Want A Machine,” written by a fourth grader, describes in six short lines how she wants to have a machine to go back in time to make sure the first human does not cause war. War affects everything, even the children, who don’t seem to be affected. They know something about the mysterious evil that world war holds. I’m guessing perhaps that this child was somehow affected by the war, losing a loved one or waiting for a loved one to return home, which makes this issue so prevalent in her poem. No one wishes to experience the cruelties that mankind has fostered over time and this little girl wishes to put an end to it by stopping the first crime committed, perhaps saving mankind’s soul.
“I Have a Yellow Scarf,” written by a third grader, describes her explanation for how the sun appears and disappears each day by throwing her scarf into the air and then catching it before she goes to sleep. The thought of throwing your scarf into the air to create the daylight and then catching it to create nighttime is an amazing belief. Magic is another subject that is present in children’s minds during these ages; there still seems to be an overall consensus that children will believe in anything that seems supernatural or spiritual during these times because everything is still possible for them. This innocence and gullibility that children have seems to be worshipped in the creative world, but why then does everybody grow up without the ability to believe in the unbelievable?
“Inside Each Snowflake,” written by a fourth grader, describes what she thinks is inside a snowflake. When I thought of what was inside a snowflake, my mind went to the logical answers; I thought water, ice, and possibly air bubbles. This girl believes there is a waterfall inside each snowflake where God takes a bath. The belief that God resides in everything is one given to people by religious factors, so perhaps this is where her belief originated. The sad fact is someday she will tell another person her belief and she will be shot down and her belief ultimately destroyed, creating a loss of innocence and a descent into adulthood.
Rybicki says, “Children see the magic and the possibilities that reside in all things.” If all adults still believed in magic and the ability to do anything you set your mind to, imagine the art we could produce and the world we would all be living in. I believe it would be one full of endless possibilities.
John Rybicki was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. He is the author of the poetry collections Traveling at High Speeds (1996) and We Bed Down Into Water: Poems (2008). His third collection, When All the World Is Old (2012), was written in response to the long illness and death of his wife, the poet Julie Moulds. His poems have been published in The Best American Poetry 2008, Alaska Quarterly Review, Field, Paris Review, and Poetry.
Rybicki has been a writer-in-residence at Alma College in Alma, Michigan. He teaches poetry to young writers through the InsideOut Literary Arts Project and Wings of Hope Hospice. He lives in Michigan with his son. Rybicki currently teaches creative writing to inner-city children in Detroit, and serves as a guest lecturer at schools throughout the country. His latest collection, Yellow-Haired Girl with Spider (March Street Press), was published in 2002.