Sunday, November 1, 2009

TSS - Focus on Poetry

Can you believe it is already November 1st? It seems like only last week that I was celebrating Labor Day weekend. Time is going by much too quickly.

This week it was time to pay the piper - so to speak - for my reading indulgence last weekend. I intentionally postponed students' papers until after the read-athon, which meant that I have been overwhelmed with grading this week. My time on blogger was definitely curtailed, and I missed reading all your posts. I am nearly caught up --- just 34 Brit Lit "Knightly Tales" to read and grade and then I should be good until Thanksgiving. So hopefully I will be able to spend a lot more time in the blogosphere.

One of the benefits of being an English teacher is that even when I am working I am flooded with bookish thoughts. I will begin a poetry unit with both my English 1 and Brit Lit classes over the next couple of weeks. Now poetry is my nemesis. It is not necessarily that I do not like it, but more that I have not been taught to appreciate it. I am trying to remedy this over time, but my confidence is fairly low in teaching this material. I did come across two resources, however, that I very much enjoy and thought I would pass those along to you. One is book that I found while surfing the internet. It is called Creating Poetry by John Drury. While the book focuses on the writing of poetry, I was able to translate that information into how to enjoy poetry. There are also several writing exercises per chapter that I feel can be used for any creative writing endeavor --- not just poetry. I plan to add this book to my personal library collection.

In working on these poetry lesson plans I was reminded of two great poems by Billy Collins that I like to use in the first class. Both poems are found in the collection, Sailing Alone Around the Room, and they are An Introduction to Poetry and Workshop. I totally sympathize with students because we often feel that we just don't "get" poetry. It is so concise and filled with puzzling symbolism, that once we have read a poem we aren't sure what it was all about. I had a professor tell me one time that the sole purpose of reading poetry is not to "get it" --- but to also pay attention to how you feel once you have finished reading it. We do not necessarily have to understand the poem as a whole, but perhaps just relate to a word - or a line - or stanza within the poem. In this way, each time we read a poem we may feel or experience or discover something different. I found great wisdom in this teaching, and it has freed me to read poetry on a personal level. I may not respond to the poem in the same way the scholars do -- and that is o.k. If interested, here is one of the poems:
An Introduction to Poetry:

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to water-ski
across the surface of the poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with a rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

While this academic unit of study will focus more on the formal aspects of poetry --- scanning for rhyme scheme and meter; poetry forms and patterns; and the analysis of a poem using the TPCASTT system --- I want the students to realize that poetry did not die at the end of the 19th Century; it is still alive and well and being performed today. In perusing YouTube I found various clips from Slam Poetry contests, and I hope to perhaps show one of these clips in the classroom. A personal favorite, although I am not sure that I will be able to show it in my very conservative classroom, is entitled What Teachers Make by Taylor Mali. It is definitely worth viewing:


  1. I am sure you will do a great job teaching this unit Molly! When I was a stay at home, homeschooling mom, I was constantly amazed at all the resources out there for teaching help on just about any subject. I loved doing poetry units with my kids--although I never did a formal study at the high school level. I did teach several little poetry classes for the elementary level and loved it! My friends were always volunteering me to teach one at the various co-ops we belonged to over the years. I am going to go check out the youtube you mentioned. Slam Poetry is a term I just heard of recently--definitely different!

  2. Molly, that video is something awesome! I love that poem by Billy Collins; he is so direct. If you are interested, Mary Oliver also wrote A Poetry Handbook and Robert Pinsky, The Sounds of Poetry, both of which are straightforward and unpedantic.
    Sorry--but I get all tingly now at the sight(or thought) of poetry, having avoided it for many many years because my high school English teachers did not teach it (I think they feared it also) and it scared me. You are giving your students a gift beyond price by offering them lucky they are!

  3. I am in catch-up mode as well, having been gone for the last week. I guess I admitted defeat in reading all the posts I missed, but can't even catch up with the ones that have been published since I've been home! Plus I have book reviews to write...

    I have to give you all kinds of credit in the poetry arena. I am a TOTAL IMBECILE when it comes to poetry. It intimidates me, I have had virtually no schooling on it, and I know I am leaving this genre of literature on the table as a result. I need to make this some kind of goal for next year...

  4. This was a 'definitely beautiful' post. I've copied the poem so I can read it over several times and also find the books. I had tears in my eyes by the end of the video. I'm going to share your post with my daughter, sister, and brother - all teachers.

    Thank you Molly.

  5. I loved this poetry post. As I am a poet, I loved reading about poetry, poets and everything related to it.

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  6. I have really enjoyed reading your blog, Molly. I'm new to it, so I spent the last evening back-reading tons of posts. Fun!

    When I was a teenager, I came across John Ciardi's book on poetry entitled How Does A Poem Mean? Such a great book! But I don't know if it's in print anymore.
    However, there is a really fun book of poetry in print that might appeal to your teenagers. I think it makes a good intro to the fun that poetry can be. It's called Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman. It won the Newbery Medal.

  7. I too struggle with poetry and want to understand it better. Check out Ted Kooser, I'm a groupie of his ever since I heard him read under a starry night in the mountains, his poetry is understandable and moving. Good luck with the kids!

  8. oho good dear !!!! very interesting blog and a good posting !!! you must maintain your blog, its interesting !!! Nice Buddy

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