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4-Year-Old Poet Will Publish His First Collection Of Poems

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

The poetry of Nadim Shamma-Sourgen is poignant, sweet, simple - like these lines from a poem called "My Lonely Garden." (Reading) This is a poem about sometimes being lonely in the garden, but realizing it can be beautiful to be lonely.

His work will appear next summer in his first published collection. Nadim does not write down his poems though. He dictates them. And that's because Nadim doesn't really read and write yet. After all, he's only 4 years old. Joining us now from London to talk about her precocious poet son is Nadim's mom, Yasmine Shamma, a lecturer in literature at the University of Reading in the U.K. Welcome to the program.

YASMINE SHAMMA: Thanks for having me.

MCCAMMON: When did you realize that your son Nadim had this talent?

SHAMMA: My colleague Kate Clanchy had very generously offered to teach me how to teach children to write poetry. So she had already armed me with a sort of set of prompts and ideas for teaching children how to write poetry. And then when Nadim came home with this poetry writing handout, it was a bit boring. It was just one of those sort of fill in the blanks that had a premade rhyme into them. So I turned the page over that very day and asked him to try one of the prompts out with me from Kate. And so that was the poem that's called "Coming Home." She tweeted it, and it was a sort of viral explosion thereafter.

MCCAMMON: And how does your process work? I mean, do you brainstorm ideas? Do you edit him at all?

SHAMMA: I do not edit. He is very specific about his words and will kind of correct - he asks you to read it back to him. So he'll tell me a poem. You know, sometimes, I give him prompts. Sometimes, I do not. Sometimes, he just starts talking and saying, I think this is a poem, Mom. And so I start writing it down. And when I read it back to him, he will correct me if I got anything wrong.

MCCAMMON: And how did you decide you wanted to do more with this? I mean, a lot of kids sort of dabble in, you know, writing little stories or using their imaginations in various ways, but how'd you decide to kind of put his work out there?

SHAMMA: To be really honest, I was a bit nervous to at first because some of these feelings that he's sharing in his poems are vulnerable feelings. You know, that poem "Coming Home" - the place that made it feel spectacular was when he explained that he takes off his brave. That's also a really sensitive thing to share. And he's a really outgoing, friendly child. And I never knew he was being brave when he was outside. And on top of that being a beautiful moment in a poem, it was a really revealing moment for me as a parent to know that that was something that he experiences - the brave face that we all put on when we're social creatures and that we get to take off when we're home.

MCCAMMON: I know your son Nadim is a little shy about speaking on the radio, but you did get him to record one of his poems for us ahead of time. What's it called, and what's it about?

SHAMMA: Sure. This poem is called "My Wish." It was composed on the very first day of lockdown here in England. He came to me in the morning, bright and early, 6:00 a.m., and just started saying that he had this wish, and he thinks it's a poem. And I should say that I did not tell him, you know, that there was a pandemic going on, but I was shocked to feel that he might have had a sort of sense that there was something going on.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NADIM SHAMMA-SOURGEN: A mountain out on that planet, and I wished for rainbow glitter to come from the sky. I would just say abracadabra, and it would happen very quickly for the whole planet. And on that planet, all the seasons, even winter. The end.

MCCAMMON: Oh, that's lovely. I love that he ends up singing the poem.

SHAMMA: (Laughter).

MCCAMMON: Is Nadim excited to be published? Does he understand that concept?

SHAMMA: I'm not really sure how much he understands. He asked for a copy of the book. That was his condition to being published, so...

MCCAMMON: Obviously, Nadim has a little bit of an advantage here. He has a mother who teaches literature. But is writing poetry - is this something that you think a lot of young children could be involved in?

SHAMMA: Absolutely. A lot of what kids say is poetry. You know, it's very pure and uncliched and raw and observational. And if we're just there with a pen and paper, i.e. just, you know, there to attend to their imaginations, we will often find ourselves with a poem on the page.

MCCAMMON: I've been speaking with Yasmine Shamma. She's the mother of a Nadim Shamma-Sourgen, the four-year-old poet who's going to be published next summer. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

SHAMMA: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF YASMIN WILLIAMS' "NEW BEGINNINGS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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