The month of April is a perfect time to to give attention to poetry. A middle school colleague and poet urged me to give some undivided attention to this often waylaid genre. My first email response was to do no more than to consider it but then I took a big breath and sent a second response pledging to commit to poetry prowess. Why am I so reluctant to present poetry to students? It is a deep-seated reluctance on which I blame an intimidating high school English teacher.
I remember the long eye roll and eyebrow lift that indicated a wrong analysis of classic poetry. It was followed by lectures on how we were not advanced enough to see the historic meaning or imbedded references. T.S. Elliot’s purposeful citation of Heart of Darkness or that poem in which a guitar is shaped like a beautiful woman had little relevance to my sixteen year old mind and stick figure body. Instead I gave up thinking that my opinion mattered on poetry. As a teacher, I have continued to worry about misinterpretations and avoided utilizing any poets that I have not studied. Until now.
Our high school and middle school have made strides towards collaborative planning and unified common curriculum. This has given me the encouragement needed to embark into lessons in poetry because I know I am not alone. Our school librarian is hosting a second annual magnetic poetry board contest. Students or teachers can come in anytime, sift through stacks of letters and words and build a poem. A snapshot photo can be emailed as a contest entry. I believe the winners will be posted on a school webpage or a thru a Twitter feed. My husband, a social studies teacher and tech integrationist stepped in to help me plan some lessons. He had taught many of my students in middle school and was able to give me insight into what types of poems and structures they responded positively to. My brawniest boys were some of his best poets. For them, poetry was a release from grammatical structure of expository writing and an opportunity to practice spelling or word usage. It fostered motivation.
I have been experimenting with word walls. I really want to build a wall of tweets around a general concept such as borders. I saw this wall of continuous tweets projected onto a tree shape at a tech conference that I can not get out of my mind. Anytime someone responds to a posted question, the tweet appears like a metaphoric leaf on a tree. For now, I’m using colorful scraps of paper from the art department. Students write ideas or sentence endings on these cards and staple them to the wall. You know you are wealthy when… And idea worth fighting for.. If only for one day…
Students like poetry for its possibility. They enjoy finding their own voice which is why I think poetry appealed to students last week as a means of sharing visceral, emotional and provocative responses to a study of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What do poems convey that facts alone do not? Perspective.
There you stand
between the dream of two gazelles,
questioning the poem.
—-Nathalie Handal’s Epthratha
I heard Nathalie Handal speak about her experience as a literary figure with an international identity. She promotes an online social network, Words Without Borders
. Founded in 2003, Words Without Borders promotes contemporary international literature and cultural understanding. January’s Writings from Haiti
might become a resource for my next unit looking at the social needs involved in rebuilding a failed state. We have been focusing on economic factors that support the wealth of nations and students are quick to understand that GDP per capita alone can not determine resilience. Having a voice, a network, houses greater possibility for development.
A lesson found on the POV website has given me a framework for moving forward into the end of April. Students juxtapose journalistic and artistic interpretations of an event, comparing meanings. They assume the role of authoritarian and critic under my guidance. If I pose the right questions and model the right curiosity I hope to give students that confidence to decode, demystify and disseminate that which I once lacked the courage to do. Recalling Emily Dickinson from my high school experience still resonates:
Hope is a thing with feathers
That perches on the soul
And sings the tunes without the words
And never stops at all…
Some helpful links: