It's National Poetry Month, and many young people around the country will probably be writing some kind of verse -- from haikus to rap lyrics -- some time this month. Perhaps the most famous of all child poets in America was Hilda Conkling, the daughter of a poet, Grace Conkling, who was also a professor of English at Smith College and who believed strongly in reading to her daughters, from the start, the very best literature she could find, despite its sophisticated difficulties. Grace's younger daughter, Hilda, born in 1910, responded to these daily readings. She began to "speak" her own poems to her mother when she was four years old, and Grace Conkling copied down her daughter's words, broke them into poetic lines, then read the poems back to Hilda, who corrected them. Soon, a number of these poems were published in magazines, and by the time she was ten, Hilda's first book, Poems of a Little Girl, appeared, to be followed soon by two other volumes, Shoes of the Wind in 1922 and Silverhorn in 1924. She was hailed by the critic Louis Untermeyer as "the most gifted of all" child geniuses; her first book was even introduced by the poet, Amy Lowell. Strangely, as an act of teaching her child self-reliance, Grace Conkling quit copying down Hilda's spoken verses when the girl became a teenager. And with that, Hilda's writing stopped. One can't help but wonder what Hilda might have produced in later years when, as a child, she could already write a poem like this:
I shall be coming back to you
Copyright 2004 © John Cech
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