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What's your favorite childhood poem?

Image by Al Swiller, accompanying the poem "The rabbit and the robin in a big new balloon" by Theodore Roethke. From the book: "Party at the Zoo," published in 1973.

Why is it that the simple poems one learns by heart in childhood somehow always remain with us, just under the surface of our consciousness? What is it about us that makes them special? The curators of the Fall exhibit in Special Collections and University Archives, entitled "My Infant Head: The History of Children's Poetry," want to know, and we want you to help by reading or reciting one or two of the poems of your childhood.

The curators of "My Infant Head" are requesting that all members of the Libraries and the Rutgers community make a short recording (no longer than 4 minutes in duration) of themselves reading their favorite children's poem. All of the recordings will be combined into a childhood poetic soundscape that will extend the exhibit space in the Special Collections Gallery and remain for the full term of the exhibit. The Children's Poetic Soundscape Project has been conceptualized to demonstrate the importance of sound structures to children's poetry, to point out that, whether one thinks of lullabies, nursery rhymes or nonsense, children's poetry is initially an oral medium, and to connect the visual and aural dimensions for visitors to the exhibit.

The curators also hope this invitation will draw a broadly inclusive range of responses to emphasize the universality of children's poetry and to suggest how it seems to bind us together as a communitas, a culture and a people. With this idea in mind, the recorded poems will also be made available as a podcast for anyone who cannot attend the exhibit or wishes to extend the gallery experience.

Some Details:

  1. Everyone is welcome to submit one or several "favorite" poem(s). Children or young adults are also invited to submit recordings.
  2. Please submit each poem as a separate file in a standard audio format.
  3. While the curators encourage poems of not more than one or two pages, they will be happy to include longer works (e.g. Snow-bound, Paul Revere's Ride, Goblin Market, The Cat and the Hat). However, people who wish to contribute book-length poems should record them in segments lasting not longer than two or three minutes. These segments will be integrated among other poems to support the unifying theme of the larger work. This of course will disrupt the integrity of the individual poem, but it will enable the listening visitor to "My Infant Head" to hear a full range of voices and poems.
  4. Although "My Infant Head" will look at Anglophone poetry, the curators envision that the aural component of the exhibit will both enhance the viewing pleasure of gallery visitors and heighten their awareness of the complex presence of the child's voice within our lives and our world. With that in mind, the curators are looking forward to receiving contributions from individuals who grew up hearing children's poems in languages other than English, or who have worked or played with children using non-English language children's poems, to augment and to complicate the display of English children's poetry in the gallery.
  5. Feel free to be creative with the recordings, but please make sure that the submitted poems are intelligible.
  6. Please feel free to share this opportunity with other individuals whose participation you believe will make a contribution to the value of the project.

Some Technical Details:

  1. Begin your recording by giving (1) NAME OF POEM; (2)AUTHOR'S NAME; (3) YOUR NAME (NAME OF PERSON READING) (Optional).
    example: "The Crocodile" by Lewis Carroll; read by Marah Abate.
    or, "The Disappearing Alphabet" by Richard Wilbur
  2. No other introduction is required. There is no need to place the poem in personal or historical context. Let the poem speak for itself.
  3. Please send the recordings to exhibition curator Michael Joseph at or project architect Katherine Van Haasteren at Via email as an audio attachment. If this is impossible, please contact them and they will work out an alternative delivery method. Any questions or concerns, including simple technical issues, can also be directed to the above addresses. They can also help with recording if necessary, by appointment.
  4. The deadline for submissions is July 15 September 1st.

Posted June 24, 2008; June 30, 2008; August 5, 2008