Listen to Emerson Verse on WSUM 91.7 FM Thursday, April 19th 1 – 2 p.m.

Emerson verse to air on radio
Susan Troller
The Capital Times

It’s fitting that students from Emerson Elementary School will be performing their original poetry on a local radio show on Thursday. After all, their school is the namesake of Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of America’s most famous essayists and literary figures, and April is National Poetry Month.

But when you ask the kids why they like poetry, they don’t talk about history or literature. They just say it’s fun.

Whether it’s a simple “Roses are red, violets are blue, That’s all I can think of, What about you?” or a longer piece on heroic sled dogs, clearly the Emerson students get a kick out of using language to make a creative point.

About 50 students from first through fifth grades have been working on a poetry project with their teachers and volunteer Paul Baker, host of WSUM’s “Wordsalad,” a weekly poetry show on the UW-Madison student station.

Baker has been recording the students’ words and will present them, backed by music, on his radio show Thursday from 1 to 2 p.m. WSUM is at 91.7 FM on the radio dial or can be accessed online. Baker said that it appears that this project combining student poetry and a radio broadcast is unique in the U.S.

Baker, who has a professional job working for the Wisconsin Center for Educational Research, does his radio show as a voluntary labor of love. The genesis for the program came when he discovered there was a large body of poetry recorded in the poets’ original voices.

“There’s poetry recorded by people like Sylvia Plath and Gertrude Stein and, of course, all kinds of new young voices. These words, spoken by their authors, are rarely heard, and I thought that might make interesting radio,” Baker explained.

“There is this bright, shining and pure quality to what elementary kids write, and how they say it,” he added. “It’s refreshing to hear.”

Last fall, Baker began talking with an old friend, Denise Janssen, who is a special education teacher at Emerson, about his radio show. He told her he’d like to include elementary school student poets on the show, and would like to do it in time for National Poetry Month.

Teachers found the project a good complement to their curriculum.

“Poetry enhances vocabulary and encourages fluency, smoothness, rhythm and cadence in language arts,” first-grade teacher Rosy Bayuk said. “It’s fun and playful for all kids, and for the students who are linguistically creative, it’s a wonderful outlet for expression. It really hooks them on writing, and reading.”

posted by Janet Morrow

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