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 poemand hold it up to the lightlike a color slideor press an ear against its hive.I say drop a mouse into a poemand watch him probe his way out,or walk inside the poem’s roomand feel the walls for a light switch.I want them to water-skiacross the surface of the poemwaving at the author’s name on the shore.But all they want to dois tie the poem to a chair with a ropeand torture a confession out of it.They begin beating it with a hoseto 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: