I have a confession. I was terrified to teach poetry. As part of the Writing about Literature course at my school, there are three units: fiction, drama, and poetry. I have a creative writing degree…in fiction. I have taken screenwriting/drama classes. But poetry? Of course, I’ve encountered poetry throughout all of my many, many years of schooling. But I’m not a poetry expert, you know?
So my first time out, I thought for sure it would be a disaster.
Add to that the fact that most of my students also have an aversion to poetry. They don’t understand it, they think it’s stupid, and, of course, most of their experience with poetry was how it means something besides what they think it means.
However, in terms of student engagement, student response, and student interest, the poetry unit has wound up being the best.
I think the main reason the unit works so well is that poetry isn’t a trick: it’s all about word choice and word order.
I cannot tell you how many of my students feel super smart because they can explain a poem, and it’s all based on “Well, in line 4, the author uses ‘x word’ which means ‘this,’ so the poem is about ‘y.’”
The other thing that helps is our final poetry assignment***. My students have to write their own poems and then explain their choices. And then we have a poetry slam where they read their poems aloud.
The effect of that assignment?
- I had a student who “didn’t read” before my class and was a math/engineering guy so was only taking the class because it’s required. He wrote so many poems that he didn’t know which one to choose for his final paper. He worked in retail and would write poems on the back of receipt paper at work. Any chance he got, he was scribbling poems.
- They come to office hours because they have too many ideas and don’t know which one to pick.
- They figure out inventive ways to do picture poems (one in the form of a broken heart, another in the form of a dancer, yet another in the form of a quadratic equation).
- This past semester, my students were so proud of their poems that they told me I should make future classes analyze their poems like we did to the ones in the books.
This is huge. My students tend to have notoriously low confidence in their writing. But they recognized and felt that their poetry was as worthy of being analyzed as the poetry in the textbook.
Poems aside, their explanations*** (which is what they’re really graded on) are fantastic. They know and understand the terminology; they know and understand the inspiration poems or poetic forms. Their papers are a joy to read.
THEIR PAPERS ARE A JOY TO READ. (!!!!!)
So, yes. Poetry. It’s amazing.
***Here’s the assignment:
Part I: The Paper
Length: no word count (poem) / 500-750 words (explanation)
You have two options for this paper.
Option 1: Write a poem that imitates or is inspired by a poem that appears in any of the assigned reading on our syllabus. Then, explain the choices you made writing your poem, focusing on how it matches the original. Use the correct vocabulary when explaining the poems and their similarities.
You are using the original poem as inspiration, which means you can write a parody (humorous imitation) or something more serious on whatever topic you wish.
Option 2: Write a fixed form poem (sonnet, villanelle, sestina, limerick, or haiku) on the topic of your choice. Then, explain the choices you made while writing your poem, focusing on how it fits the chosen form and why you chose that particular form. Use the correct vocabulary when explaining your choices.
In order to successfully complete this paper, you must first understand the features of the poetic form and how to properly implement them. Only then will you be able to craft your poem.
Part II: The Final
Our poetry final will be an in-class poetry slam held during the assigned finals time. You will read/recite your poem to the class.
This work by Akilah @ The Englishist is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.