Introduction to Poetry

Introduction to Poetry

 

Part of the frustration of any literature teacher is the groaning chorus of poetry haters who are not excited about the poetry unit. To help this, I try to introduce poetry via song lyrics and fun poems.  One of my favorite fun poems is Billy Collins’ “Introduction to Poetry” which presents the problems of teacher expectations running into students.

It is perfect for teaching assonance, metaphor, and free form structure.  And it nails #thestruggleisreal feeling teachers get when trying to get students to read beyond the surface of a poem.

I’m in the process of creating a worksheet for this poem geared toward high school students.  I’ll email the first five requests in the comments a free PDF copy of it when it’s done!  Everyone else will be able to buy it from my Teachers Pay Teachers store when it’s done.

Enjoy!

Introduction to Poetry

BY BILLY COLLINS

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 waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
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Seven Reasons to Celebrate National Poetry Month

Seven Reasons to Celebrate National Poetry Month

NPM-Poster-2016Started in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, National Poetry month is a special kind of nerd thing.

Many people are nerds for science fiction, gaming, cosplay, computers, coding, music, musicals, TV shows, fan fiction, etc. Those of us who nerd for poetry get pretty excited that we have a whole month dedicated to the thing we love that so many other less fortunate people don’t.

If you don’t love poetry, you might want to come back in May.

If you love poetry, or love someone who loves poetry, this spot will be the place to be, as in the next 29 days, we’re going to look at the world of poetry. Where it came from, how we study it, why we study it, and why more people should stop and love it. So, in true modern blog fashion, here are some reasons you should celebrate national poetry month.

  1. You remember something about poetry because a poetry geek pounded it into your head.That geek was probably one–or four–of your high school English teachers.  Each of mine were amazing women who pushed me to write not just for grades, but for passion.  That they cared enough to make me remember that sonnets have fourteen lines and haiku three, means something. And that you remember it means something too. 
  2. You might admit to having a favorite poem if forced to.  We all have a favorite book, and if we’re the smart educated sort, we might even have a favorite poem.  I do. I have several actually, but the one that will always top the list is Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabelle Lee.” I memorized it in middle school, and have tucked my kids into bed with it, despite its depressing story.
  3. You have actually liked a song for the lyrics and not the music. There are some performers whose lyrics are just gut wrenching.  I bet you can name a few songs whose lyrics were the perfect backdrop for an event in your life.  Like it or not, those lyrics are poetry. Everything from sappy country to hard rock and rap are, at their heart, poems.
  4. You want to impress your significant other. Every romantic wants someone to think they’re beautiful enough to have a sonnet written for them.  I had a student once who, as part of his poetry memorization project, recited one of Shakespeare’s sonnets to a girl in his class, gave her a rose, and sat down.  I’m pretty sure they’ll both remember the absolute amazingness of that two minutes for the rest of their lives. I don’t remember the student’s name, but I can see him, on one knee in front of her, one hand on his heart and one holding out that rose.
  5. Educators could use the support. There are poems about everything.  Find some, and encourage your children, your friends, your family, to read them.  Teachers can use all the help we can get to encourage our students to dig a little deeper, and not be embarrassed to embrace something like poetry.
  6. Poetry is a living, beautiful thing that grows and changes and demands that you pay attention to it.  I stole this from a teacher at a training years ago: Good literature is like a good girl. She doesn’t kiss on the first date.  You want something more than company? You’re going to have to work for it, earn it.  With poetry, that work means you may have to read a piece several times to really “get it.” My favorite poem for this lesson is William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis,” which my 10th grade literature teacher made us memorize the last stanza of.  In her honor, I make my juniors memorize it too.
  7. The Academy of American Poets has it all planned out for you. They have a “poem a day” email that will bring you cool poetry you’ve likely never read before straight into your in-box on the daily, so you don’t even have to go looking for it.  They have lesson plans for you teachers, and poems for every event and occasion you can imagine.  Some of the best poets are represented on their website.  You should check them out.

Don’t be embarrassed.  Poetry is a really cool thing.  Trust me.  Celebrate it.  You won’t regret it!