Why bother with poetry? I always included a poetry writing unit in my senior English classes. We would look at some well- known poets and use their work for inspiration to write poetry of our own. Poetry is always a ‘hard sell’ with teenagers. Many think it’s boring and are sure they can’t write poetry. An English colleague once told me his memories of studying poetry in high school were so bad he had decided never to teach poetry to his own students.
I loved poetry as a child. My grade four teacher made us memorize and recite The Song My Paddle Sings by Emily Pauline Johnson. Nearly fifty years later I can still recall every word of that poem. I have a whole collection of poems I have memorized. Reciting them in my mind is a great way to calm my nerves in stressful situations or to make time pass more quickly when I am waiting.
My goal as an English teacher was to get kids to enjoy poetry, to realize it could be useful and to feel confident about writing it and…. if they grew to love a poem enough to memorize it- all the better.
I’ll never forget a grade eleven boy who was late handing in a poetry assignment. He said he had just broken up with his girlfriend and was too upset about it to do homework. I told him to write a poem about the dramatic end to his romantic relationship. He did, and sent it to the girl who had jilted him. She was so impressed with the sensitivity of his poem she took him back. He came to the next English class elated; definitely convinced that poetry was useful.
Some poets have started putting animated videos on-line. As the poets read their work aloud it comes alive with images and sound. The exciting format of the animated poems written by Billy Collins, a former Poet Laureate of the United States never failed to capture the students’ interest.
At the end of my poetry unit I always had may students write reflections about studying and writing poetry and here is what some of them had to say……………
- Some kids have this weird perception that poetry has to be all abstract and rhyming and like Emily Dickinson, but once they realize it can be fun and easy to read they enjoy it.
- I never thought I could write poetry till I took this class- but I learned that poems have a structure that can make writing them easy.
- I’m not an artist but I feel like poetry allows me to create art with words.
- Writing a poem lets you summarize stuff that’s happened to you without using too many words like in an essay
- Writing poetry made me notice things more because if you are going to write a poem about someone or something you have to think about all the tiny details that make that person or thing interesting and some of those details are important things you never appreciated before
- Some kids say writing poetry is cheesy but I think that is just because they are scared to share their feelings