Applause for poetry – it’s a snap


My grandson’s second grade class held a poetry reading at a local bookstore last week. Much of the poetry was written by the kids themselves. Most were short and to the point. Nothing rings so true, I think, as the workings of 7-year-old minds.

After each child read, the audience of parents and grandparents applauded – not by clapping their hands, but by snapping their fingers. As it turns out, finger snapping is something of a tradition at poetry readings.

It started during the 1950s in Greenwich Village where a generation of American youth dropped out, called themselves Beatniks and gathered in dingy basement apartments to read their own poetry. Instead of clapping, which would disturb residents living upstairs, they snapped their fingers. More importantly, I guess, you can snap your fingers with one hand, which leaves the other free to hold your wine glass – an important part of being a Beatnik.

Finger snapping as applause actually had its roots with the ancient Romans. Reportedly, they also flapped their togas and waved their handkerchiefs – a practice continued today, of course, at fraternity functions and sporting events.

The history of applause is rich with variations. Medieval French theater paid professional applauders to attend plays and operas. Early Christian congregations applauded sermons until Richard Wagner came along and took all the fun out of religion with his somber religious operas.

In Russia, it is customary for speakers to applaud the audience, and at functions for the deaf, people applaud by raising their hands and wiggling their fingers. I learned this last part when I attended my granddaughter’s graduation from the State School for the Deaf in Missouri several years ago.

So, hand clapping or finger snapping, if it will encourage kids to continue writing poetry, I say let’s give them a big hand.

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