Admit it–we like poetry
because for the most part it’s a quick commitment. Two to five
minutes we get our emotions stirred, we open up our imagery files,
and we tuck away a line to ruminate on. This is not cynicism,
merely observation. We love, love, love poetry more than we love,
love, love short stories. At least, this is what I am beginning to
surmise as I dole out literary experiences to high school students.
Since I’ve been English literature teachering for the past
decade, I have discovered poetry is amazingly versatile in its
ability to stir up passion in students. Students run
the Richter scale of response of “Just hand me a dull spoon so I
can dig out my eyeball” (LOL–actual quote from a senior) to
“Poetry! I love poetry! Can we write our own poems!” (yet, another
true quote). There doesn’t seem to be much of the middle roading
when it comes to reading or writing poetry. Why is that, I wonder?
My students aren’t sure either. Somewhere between Shel Silverstein and Shakespeare
sonnets the love of verse becomes irrevocably squashed.
I think Billy Collins presented oh so well:
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
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s
and feel the walls for a light
I want them to
across the surface of a
waving at the author’s name on the
But all they
want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with
and torture a confession out of
They begin beating it with a
to find out what it really
Billy. I am trying to convert my rubber hose approach into one of
ski rope handles.
words into my students. I want them to turn to poems like
they do to their tunes. After all, song lyrics are mostly
poetry with infused music. Once students realize that if they
actually unplugged their buds long enough to actually read
their play list lyrics out loud they will see all those
literary terms of assonance, imagery, rhythm, rhyme, simile,
allusion floating around.
poems. I much prefer them waterski and wave in
acknowledgement as we launch out on poetry’s
waters. Grooving on poetry is, I hope contagious. My
excitement at reading a really marvelous poem out loud causes me to
have physical reactions. The other day I read Seamus Heaney‘s “Digging.”
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
My father, digging. I look down
out loud I sucked in my breath and danced a bit in
place, so moved was I with Heaney’s wordsmithing. My AP
students benignly tolerate my antics. I’m hoping my
unfettered appreciation will one day stir them into
showing me their unabashed admiration.
exposure to poetry during my own K-12 school days, and didn’t
really discover its merits until college, I am continually amazed
at its power to stir my emotions. I valiantly want to pass on
this joy to my students and even before the Common Core required a
unit on poetry, I taught it anyway.
commentary on how words artfully placed meaningfully lend a
dimension to our lives that makes us linger to inhale the
fragrance of as Coleridges states, “the best words in the best
any poems that cause you to dance a bit in place when you read
them? Oh, do share.