Getting Started

As much as I love reading poetry, when anticipating the thought of teaching it for the first time, I felt myself a little lost at sea.  Suddenly plot and character seemed like life rafts that this poetry-rig unfortunately did not come equipped with.  However, I have learned that where I was merely nauseous, my students were ready to leap overboard—a consolation, if nothing else.  However you feel about teaching poetry at this point, these strategies are simply meant to lend you ideas and sample activities that will hopefully make your passage a little smoother. 

Approaching poetry as a genre

Because poetry is the genre that will be least attractive to your students (I’ve taken polls on this every semester, and this has ALWAYS been the case, by a landslide), I’ve found that it’s helpful to spend some time prefacing your dive into it, perhaps by discussing its relevance (or irrelevance, as the case may be) to your students’ lives, perhaps by spending some time talking about the simple act of reading, perhaps by introducing poetry into the classroom much earlier than you’ve scheduled it on your syllabus.  These are all things I have found helpful before digging into the first poems for class:

Letting students complain about poetry:  Students love to air their grievances, especially about poetry, and I find it’s better to let them do it in a controlled discussion that has a goal rather than to ignore their preconceived notions and frustrations and to then hear them erupt throughout your poetry unit.  So:  I like to spend half a class period (or however much time it takes) letting the students talk about what they like and/or dislike about poetry (this coming after I’ve polled them at the beginning of the semester about their genre preferences), without me arguing back.  We make a big list on the board, usually consisting of complaints like “too abstract,” “too cryptic,” “too hard,” “too emotional,” “I don’t like to think about death,” etc.  You might ask them, too, to identify specific poems that gave them these negative impressions; often they will have no reference point (or maybe one poem) but will be speaking vaguely about their conception of Poetry.  Even after all this, I don’t disagree with them; these are complaints that we probably all have had about individual poems at various times.  What I emphasize is that appreciating poetry is not something that necessarily comes immediately; like hitting a golf ball or driving a stick shift, something will happen at that first encounter, but it’s not likely going to be pretty.  That doesn’t mean that you blame the golf ball or decide the car isn’t worth driving; you just have to give it patience and effort.  The problem is that your students know how to read, so they think that means that they also know how to read poetry; if they don’t understand it, then it’s the poet’s fault and not theirs.  This is when it becomes necessary to move the next step:

Discussing the act of reading:  Students are often really excited about one aspect of poetry–that it’s short.  This means to them that they will be done with their reading assignment in ten minutes as opposed to the two hours they have to spend reading Pride and Prejudice.  It’s no surprise to me that so many students dislike poetry when they breeze through it like this.  I make a point of telling them that if this is how they read poetry, they are not reading poetry: -they are not, essentially, doing the assignment.  I tell them to force themselves to read as SLOWLY as they possibly can.  I tell them to read ALOUD.  I tell them to read an individual poem FIVE TIMES.  And I tell them to LOOK UP any word they might not know.  It may seem like you’re wasting your breath to say such things, and it’s true that the students who are not likely to follow instructions are no more likely to follow these.  I think of it, however, in terms of the philosophy of negotiations:  you ask for more than you expect to receive.  As a result, even if your students don’t read a poem five times, they’ll at least read it twice; even if they don’t take enough time with it, they’ll at least take more than they would have otherwise.  Whatever kinds of pointers you want to give them, what I would emphasize is that it is essential for them to know that reading poetry requires a different kind of reading than reading a textbook, an e-mail, or even a novel.   Of course, this point can in part be demonstrated by moving to step three...

Poetry Tools

What tools do students need for analyzing poetry?

Provide your students with a tool box for reading poetry: Even if your students read a poem several times, the chances are that they will not know what they should be looking for if you don’t give them some direction.  I’ve discovered that by simply giving students a structured way to consider each poem (I tell them it is their poetry “toolbox”), it not only gives students increased confidence in their interpretation abilities, but it also gives us, as a class, common ground from which to start our discussions about poetry. Early in the semester, I introduce students to the following tools which they might employ in their exploration of a poem:

Reading Poetry:  5 Things to Look For

For each of the following elements, ask yourself, “How does this aspect contribute to the meaning of the poem?”

1. Meanings of Words — Implications of title, words you don’t understand, connotations of words.  (Use a dictionary!)

2. Implications of Images — Any clusters or patterns of imagery (language that appeals to the senses).

3. Structure — Does it imply story?  What are its beginning, middle, and end?  Consider the poem’s appearance on page (indented line, stanza organization)

4. Tone of Voice — Is irony (contrast of some kind:  states one thing, means another; expectations vs. actual events, etc.) used? Any changes in mood in the poem? What kinds of vocabulary and sentence structure are used? What does this tell us about the speaker?

5. Patterns of Sound — Sound effects, such as repetitions of sounds and entire words.  Unexpected stresses or pauses.

I am quick to emphasize that not every poem will demonstrate all of these elements, but chances are that the poem will provide interesting discussion regarding at least 2 or 3 of these elements. I explain to students that after their initial reading of the poem, they should use these elements to shape their subsequent readings of the poem (read once for the meaning of words, once for the implications of images, and so on). After introducing this concept in class, I have my students, as a large group, work through a poem using the method. (I find Shakespeare sonnets work particularly well for this exercise, but I am, admittedly, bias.) After students have tackled a poem together, I break them into small groups and have each group apply the method to a different poem. After reporting back their findings to the class, I send these more confident readers home to work on some poetry on their own.

It’s also important to note that you cannot expect that your students will know what you mean when you start talking about poetic devices. Those students who are just out of high school might be able to identify that all those crazy words you are saying – assonance, alliteration, onomatopoeia, caesura – have something to do with poetry, but many won’t be able to identify what the terms actually mean, and in my experience, these terms are particularly foreign to adult students. You might devote some time in class to having your students brainstorm the poetic devices they remember and work together to define them. It is always good, however, to reinforce these definitions with specific examples. Be prepared to redefine these terms as you encounter these devices throughout the semester. I also find that such brainstorming sessions, although useful, can also be overwhelming for students you are particularly wary of poetry. It is often good to provide students with a poetic devices “cheat sheet” (this would be something you could post on ICON), which they can refer to throughout the semester.

Strategies for Teaching Poetry

Useful Poetry Ploys:

Certainly there are dozens of ways to teach any given poem and to structure a poetry unit, so I find it’s best to determine what your own goals are for the unit as well as for individual poems.  Below you will find some sample objectives and suggested activities for achieving those objectives. Most of these ideas are not original, and I have not tested them all in the classroom. They have been tested and approved, however, by various T.A.s and seem to work particularly well.  So, take what you will:

A. Dude, you encounter poetry all the time, or illustrating poetry’s relevance

These are good activities to use for starting off a poetry unit if you want your students to spend any time thinking about how poetry is relevant to their lives even if they think otherwise.  Poetry, (or at least elements of it, like the use of rhyme and metaphor) surround us in the guise of slogans and jingles, and music is also a good point from which to embark upon a discussion of poetry’s relevance today.

1. Found Poem (or Found Metaphor)

For this activity, define what a found poem is (found poem: an unintentional poem discovered in a non-poetic context, such as from street signs, bathroom stalls, a newspaper, an advertisement, a menu, etc.; the words found can be presented as is or rearranged to create a new meaning), and then ask them to bring one back to class the next day.  You could take the in-class discussion of the students’ found poems in a number of directions, but because many of the activities I mention in this packet work well with small groups, this would be an opportunity to make everyone participate verbally by sitting in a circle and having each person read their found poem.  Between readings, ask each student what the sources were for his or her poem, and create a running list on the board.    Hopefully, by the end of the readings, you’ll have an array of sources that we encounter daily but that we don’t often think of as being poetic.  This should illustrate that the possibility of poetry exists everywhere around us, that we encounter it whether or not we consciously take note of it, and that it’s not boring, old, and irrelevant.

2. What’s on your iPod?

Many of your students will not just claim that poetry is irrelevant to their lives, but they will do it after having just shut off their iPods.  They can do this with a straight face because to them, poetry means stuff that Shakespeare wrote centuries ago.  So, sometimes a good way into poetry is to relate it to music.  This objective could be carried out in many ways, depending on how big a demonstration you want this to be, but a basic approach to this activity would be to type up for your students a list of poetic devices and their definitions (things like metaphor, simile, personification, hyperbole, overstatement, understatement, alliteration, rhyme, assonance, and consonance—take your pick based on what you want to focus on, but try not to overload them), and ask them to print off the lyrics for five songs and to identify in those lyrics as many of these devices as they can find.  (Or, if you need an activity on the fly, you can simply bring in lyrics to five or six different songs, break the students into groups in class, and have them search for these devices; this method will obviously give you more control over what songs you’re looking at.  This is not to say that your students’ taste in music is unpoetic, but your students may just be able to identify more poetic devices if you select songs that nicely demonstrate your point.)  In class the next day, you can write out the several categories of devices on the board and then go around the room, asking for metaphors, and then similes, and then hyperbole, etc.  Be sure to have them name the songs their examples came from, and ideally, this should go to show that the music they listen to is full of poetic techniques and devices.  As a way of rounding out the activity, you can hand out or write on the board Ezra Pound’s assertion that “Poetry withers and dies out when it leaves music, or at least imagined music, too far behind it. Poets who are not interested in music are, or become, bad poets,” and have the students free write for a few minutes in response to this idea.  Has looking more closely at lyrics from music proved the link that Pound sees between music and poetry?  Through this activity, your students should essentially show themselves that music has much in common with poetry, and this should open them up a little more to giving poetry a fair shake, whether or not they admit it.

B. What the @&!# does this even mean?!!, or translating a poem

Because students often have a hard enough time understanding what a poem is saying let alone how it employs all manner of poetic devices, you might find it helpful early in your poetry unit to spend some time establishing reading practices, hopefully illustrating to them that what they don’t get initially can be brought to light with a little effort and patience.  The goal of these activities is simply for them to spend some time puzzling through difficult syntax and language in order to arrive at a kind of modern translation of the poem.  Nothing revolutionary here—just some time spent demonstrating that they can “get” a poem if they work through it slowly. 

1. Drawing a poem

This activity originally comes from Scott Nowka, a P.A. of old.  In this activity, you introduce the idea that understanding what a poem is saying– particularly when it’s “old” can become much easier when you try to visualize it.  To set this up, you might assign two poems for the day–one a selection from your anthology that also appears in Dave Morice’s Poetry Comics: An Animated Anthology (New York: T&W Press, 2002) or Poetry Comics (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982) and another of your choice (sonnets work well for this activity because you can break the class into seven groups, each responsible for two lines).  Before you begin, have the students write down for each poem one thing they didn’t understand, and collect these.  Read the first poem aloud together, spend a minute or two finding out what they can tell you about the poem from their reading of it, and then hand out the poetry comic Dave Morice has drawn for that poem.  Read it aloud again, while the students look at the images, and then talk about how those images aid us in comprehending the poem.  What is clearer after seeing the comic?  Why do the specific images help?  Pull a couple of the questions they wrote about the first poem and see if these can now be answered.  With this in mind, then, tell the students they will illustrate the second poem for the day.  Break the class into groups, and either draw panels up on the board or hand out drawing paper and markers.  Give them five to seven minutes to decipher what their lines are saying and to illustrate that on paper.  For extra guidance, you could compose beforehand a question per group that will help them to reason through what is happening in their lines, but in any case, you should circulate and be available for questions.  Have the class either transfer their drawings onto the board or tape up, side by side, the illustrations that they’ve done, and discuss what the poem seems to be saying based on the illustrations.  Again, return to the questions they wrote at the beginning of class, and pose some of these to the students as they look at and think through the poem.  Ideally, visualizing the poem in this way will help them to apprehend more easily and confidently what is happening in the poem.

2. “Nowadays” this would say…

One thing I’ve learned from teaching is that students love to explain how things are “nowadays.”  If they won’t talk about anything else, they will be happy to put their wisdom about life and relationships today on the table.  To channel that enthusiasm, you can ask them to recreate a difficult poem in their own language and using their own context. You might model the activity yourself by giving your own “modern” translation of a short poem, or if you want to get fancy, you could have a scene ready to read and/or play from Taming of the Shrew and Ten Things I Hate About You (or any such “old” text and its modern translation) in order to build up the activity a little and give them a sense of what you’re asking them to do.  After prefacing their assignment in this way, read aloud the poem you’re working on once or twice (or have the students do so), and simply break the students into small groups, asking them to “translate” the poem into modern English and a modern context (this you could either leave up to them, or you could assign specific contexts:  a conversation, a rap, an e-mail or IM, etc.) working line by line and trying to be as faithful to the original content as possible. Then, you could either have the groups each take a stanza if the poem is long, or if time permits, you could ask each group to translate the whole thing, which would allow you to see if different readings are emerging among the class.  After giving them fifteen minutes or so to work on this (-or more if necessary), have each group present their translation, and make a list on the board of what you can speculate from each translation about the poem in question.  Then, return to the original poem.  Did the translations capture everything?  Does anything seem to get lost from the original poem when we look at it this way?  What do the translations inevitably change about the original?  Try to look for moments in their translations that would illustrate this point well.  These questions, and the activity as a whole, will hopefully allow them to see both why it’s helpful to rephrase a poem’s content in your own words, and yet what is essential about meeting a poem in its original form (you can relate this conversation to one that you’re bound to have in regard to Shakespeare: -why do we ask them to read the plays and not just to watch their reincarnations?)  Clearly any poem with difficult diction will work for this activity, but I like to use poems that are also topically interesting to my students, like Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress,” Herrick’s “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time,” or Housman’s “Terence, This is Stupid Stuff,” and maybe even Donne’s “The Flea.”  Once students discover that poets from the past were writing about beer and sex, they will be feel an instant camaraderie with those poets and will look at poetry with a newfound respect.

3. Transcribing a poem

This activity also has as its aim a more nuanced understanding of the poem as a whole and is based on the assumption that if students simply slow their brains down in processing the poem, they will start to see things that they couldn’t before.  This activity is flexible—it could be used as an in-class activity or an assignment.  If done in-class, choose a poem for this that the students haven’t yet seen, and read it together in class a time or two, having students write afterward a short paragraph about what they think the poem is saying and why, what contributes to that meaning, etc.  Then, have students individually write the poem out long-hand once or twice (depending on its length), tracing in a following paragraph how their understanding of the poem has shifted or grown during the simple act of transcribing the poem.  What else did they notice as they wrote the words out?  Did they get tripped up anywhere?  Why?  Did the process challenge their first impression about the poem?  How so?  The hope is that taking charge of the words in a physical way will help students to pay closer attention to the words, punctuation, and spacing that comprise a poem and to begin to see how each individual choice can carry important nuances that must be taken into account in our interpretation.

C. Breaking up and stripping down:  examining part to whole

Once you’ve (hopefully) defeated the assumption that poetry is irrelevant and (with any luck) gotten your students more comfortable with the act of translating poetic language into their own words (or images), you can dive into more rigorously analytical activities.  The activities that follow are meant to achieve the goal of more closely understanding how the smaller choices a poet makes (the selection of a particular word, the use or absence of punctuation, the use of capitalization) help to carry out or feed into what seems to be the overall effect of the poem.  This is meant to move beyond the initial question of what the poem is saying toward the question of why it is being said in this particular way.  

1.  Word up, or Poetry, magnetically Speaking

This activity, coming originally from Nicki Buscemi, works particularly well with poems that have a consistent tone throughout, like Wallace Stevens’ “The Snowman.”  Begin by breaking up this or another poem into a list of the words that make up the poem.  You can either leave it as a list that they can work from, or you can cut the list into individual words magnetic-poetry-style (printing the words on a thicker paper might be useful if you take this route) that they can then rearrange how they see fit.  Break the class into small groups and give each group the list or an envelope full of words, without telling the students where the words come from.  Ask each group to create their own poem using only the words on the list that you’ve given them.  After each group has created their poem, ask the students what kinds of tones or themes the diction that you gave them allowed or required.  Since it is unlikely that students will find a way to create a cheerful poem from the words in “The Snowman,” they will begin to see how much can be understood about a poem merely by concentrating on the words themselves.  Then, you can have each group read their poem aloud (perhaps even have each group write the first stanza on the board so the class can more clearly see the choices made in terms of line length, rhyme, punctuation, etc.), and pause after each reading to discuss the choices the group made in constructing the poem and what effect that construction had on how we received or understood it.  Keeping in mind these various reconstructions of the words in “The Snowman,” turn to Stevens’ actual poem and discuss what it seems to be about and how closely the various groups’ poems captured (or failed to capture) those meanings.

2.  Interrogating a poem

One of the basic ways to teach any text is to have students form questions about it, and poems are no exception.  This activity is extremely versatile and can be used in any number of ways, but because I’ve been giving a lot of small group suggestions, here’s a way you can organize an activity like this having students work individually.  Open, as always, by having a student read the poem, and try to get some opening comments on the table about what the poem seems to be saying.  It’s not essential that you arrive at a conclusive reading since the questions will allow you to work more carefully through the poem, but be sure to emphasize to them that the goal of this activity is to investigate not just what the poem is saying but how it is being said.  Ask them to write a question (once on a paper and once on a notecard you collect) with this specific goal in mind, and remind them that the how includes countless possibilities—the use of punctuation and capitalization, the diction, the line breaks, the stanza breaks, the meter, title, etc.  Then, you could have each student crumple up their question and throw it into the center (the snowball thing), having each pick up a different paper and respond to the question posed, trying to point to another moment in the poem as evidence for their response (so that they’re working on relating the part to the whole).  You could repeat this twice more so that you have three potential answers to each question, and so that each student has thought about four different questions (their own and three others).  While this is going on, you will have time to read through the questions and pick a starting point.  Have the person who is currently in possession of that question read it and the answers given, and discuss them with the class.  Are the answers all in agreement?  If not, what different explanations are given, and what seems most convincing?  Do they explain the poet’s choice?  Does the explanation seem to jive with the poem as a whole?  This should ideally demonstrate to students that seemingly small and “insignificant” choices about a punctuation mark, a line break, and a word choice have a specific design behind them, and that attention to these details can help to open up the poem as a whole.

3.  Couldn’t this just be a paragraph?: Exploring the logic of the line

One of the major difficulties students have in encountering poetry is making sense of the way it looks upon the page.  Unless all the stanzas use the same rhyme scheme and number of lines and the lines the same number of feet, students often feel that the choices made by the poet are arbitrary.  This is (I think) one of the more difficult aspects of poetry to teach, but if they can come to see that there are valid reasons for why a poem is broken up and spaced upon the page as it is, rather than being written out as a block of prose, many of them will gain greater respect for the craft behind it.  Of course, it can be difficult even as the instructor to make sense out of the ways in which every single poem you read in class is constructed, so you probably want to choose specific poems for this activity that highlight the logic in line and stanza breaks.  I love to use William Stafford’s “Traveling Through the Dark” for this, myself.  Whatever your choice, bring handouts of the poem in to class typed as a block of prose, which the students will have to break back into lines.  They will succeed best at this if they have some guiding principles to go by, principles which you can establish yourself or borrow from others.  Robert Pinsky, for instance, has argued that “the poem in print is a notation designed to make what one hears as clearly apprehensible as possible.”  I would add to this that the poem in print is designed also to give a visual weight to certain words (last and first words of a line especially), as well as to create strategic silences. Write these or other guiding ideas on the board, and spend a few minutes explaining that their goal is to try to arrange the poem in a way that most effectively achieves the guiding ideas you set forth.  To execute:  break the students into groups of three or so, and instruct them to read the paragraph through a few times so they can start to internalize what they hear when they read through the paragraph slowly.  After familiarizing themselves with the paragraph for a few minutes, ask them to break the paragraph into lines (and stanzas, if they deem it appropriate) that seem to make sense based on the guiding ideas.  Emphasize that their choices should not be arbitrary but that they should be able to defend their logic.  What would allow this activity to be the most streamlined is to hand out transparencies and overhead projector markers so that each group can write up their poem once (instead of having to rewrite it on the board and compete for chalk and space), and then have each group show and read aloud their arrangement of the poem.  Have them explain why they chose the line length they did, why they opted (or not) to use enjambment, why they did or didn’t use stanza breaks, what significance there is in the words they chose to end each line, etc.  Proceed with each group, and see if you can begin to catch nuances in the readings that stem from the various constructions.  Cleverly point these out.  Finally, put up the actual arrangement of the poem, reading it once more.  Ask students to compare the poet’s choices to their own and prompt them to try to articulate the poet’s logic in constructing the poem in this way.  What this activity should drive home is that, while there isn’t necessarily one obvious way to arrange a poem, that doesn’t mean that the arrangement is consequently arbitrary.  There are completely valid reasons-and effective ones at that-to explain why a certain word might be hovering in white space at the end of a long line or why there’s an enjambed stanza, and this activity should help your students to understand that.

D. Hearing voices, or exploring the meanings of sound

I used to think that spending time on the nebulous concept of “sound” in Interpretation of Literature was too impossible to attempt, given how little attention each genre gets.  After recently deciding that it would be worth a shot, anyway, I discovered how much more the students felt they discovered about poetry than I had seen in previous semesters—simply by thinking carefully about sound.  A wonderful crash course in how to teach sound-as-meaning can be found in Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook.  Also, the commonly-anthologized excerpt from Alexander Pope’s “An Essay on Criticism” is an excellent way to introduce the concept of sound-as-meaning to the class, since this poem enacts the difference between poets that use sound lazily and poets that choose sounds that underscore their meaning (like himself).  It’s a tough poem, and they may not get it, but if you walk them through it, light bulbs will start to go on…

1.  Writing a Parody

One of the ways to teach something about rhythm and meter without necessarily getting into scansion or making them learn all about anapests and tetrameters is to have students try their hand at it by replicating the meter a poem is written in.  Either by writing additional stanzas to the original poem or simply imitating the style on another topic altogether, your students will be forced to compose in the meter already chosen for them (if you want to give them an example of such a parody before you set them loose, consult Francis Heaney’s Holy Tango of Literature, a hilarious goldmine of parodies based on anagrams of poets’ names).  This activity would likely work best as an out-of-class assignment; when they bring it back, you can ask for volunteers to read their parodies.  Have them afterward describe the rhythmic pattern they were having to work within (maybe have them even say the pattern without words) and then try to determine as a class how the accents fall in that pattern and how many feet per line that pattern seems to have.  Once they arrive at this, go ahead and give it a label if you like, but whether or not they know the difference between an anapest and a dactyl in name, the point is that they start to hear the patterns that often govern lines of poetry.  Then, try to have the students discuss how this pattern might “make sense” for the poem they parodied.  How does the pattern seem to work in conjunction with the content?  This is a good opportunity, too, to talk about what obstacles students faced in writing their parodies—was it always easy to find words to fit the pattern, or did it take a lot of revision?  Did some lines come out more successfully than others?  Why?  This will hopefully give students some glimpse of the amount of craft and play that go into the composition of poetry.

2.  From the horse’s mouth

As I’ve said, I think reading poems aloud in class is an important exercise in getting students used to experiencing poetry.  In my mind, this is because poets work so intimately with sound that you’re simply not fully experiencing the poem until you’re feeling it physically in your mouth or hearing it in someone else’s. The goal is to understand how the voice is an important element in shaping meaning since it is the vehicle for sound.  So, this too is a kind of “before and after” activity in which students are meant to trace their understanding of a poem based on listening carefully to voice and sound.  To set this up, then, have students come in to class having read a poem, typed it out, and made markings on it indicating how they would read it.  Have them underline words they would emphasize, make hatch marks where they would pause, indicate with arrows where they would get louder or softer, higher-pitched or lower, etc.  Basically just create a set of symbols that everyone can use to capture how they would read the poem.  Have a couple of students volunteer their readings, explaining why they made the choices they did.  Then, hand out a clean copy of the poem, typed and triple-spaced, and then play the poet’s reading of that poem two or three times, first having them just listen to it, and then having them mark how the poet read his or her work.  Give them a few minutes to think about and compare their readings and then to free-write about how the poet’s reading differed from their own and how that difference in reading might affect the way in which we interpret the poem. Students seem to really like listening to poets read their work, and whether or not you plan a whole activity around it, it is sometimes nice to just play a poem for them here or there.  A good resource for this is Poetry Speaks, a three-disc collection of poets reading their work, from Tennyson to the present.

3.  Synonymous substitutions

One way to zero in on how sound is functioning is to imagine what other words a poet might have used and to explore how the sounds in the word chosen best echo the tone and/or content of the poem.  For this activity, then, you can introduce your students to categories of sound like stops, liquids, nasals, and fricatives (a nice account of these are offered in Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook as well as in Mason and Nims’ Western Wind).   Having this brief introduction to how individual sounds carry meaning, ask students to choose what they take to be the three to five words that best capture the essence of the poem under discussion.  Then, have them take a few minutes to come up with a handful of synonyms for each of those words.  Make a list of some of the words from the poem the students chose, and then write next to those words various synonyms that the class has come up with.  Take them one by one, then, and have the students try to describe the feeling or tone that the original word carries, and compare that to the feeling carried by the synonyms.  Can a case be made based on these comparisons that the original word does, indeed, best capture the tone or underscore the content of the poem?  How so?  It can take students a little while to get going on this activity, but ideally they’ll come to see how a poet’s thoughtful attention to sound, or to the music of language, is not just incidental but instead works intimately with the content and the emotional dimension of the poem itself. [A. Stenson,]

The Economy of Language and the Language of the Economy

I really wanted to show my students that poetry does not just exist in the University, but has a clear value for their professional future.  To demonstrate this I showed them advertisements from a bio-fuel company called POET and has commercials featuring people reciting poems about bio-fuels.

This link will display the advertisements that I am referring too:

Visualizing Poetry

LXD is a dance organization that makes a series of webisodes dealing with people developing supernatural powers through dancing and the ongoing narrative deals with a growing battle between good and evil. The tenth episode, “I seen a Man,” features a street prophet speaking while the viewer watches a “chosen” person dance.

On the day I was introducing the students to poetry I handed out the street prophets monologue and had the students engage the poem using the five tools mentioned already in this wiki (Reading Poetry:  5 Things to Look For). As a class we discussed their interpretations and after the conversation had come to an end, I showed them the video here:

After the video had played – there are three parts in this video, I just showed them the first two—we then discussed how found poetry can be discovered everywhere and how imagery intended to be associated with a poem can effect one’s interpretation. []

Poetry Debate

After teaching some poems with more recognizable formal elements, I taught the poem “A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island” by Frank O’Hara. This poem has an offhand, conversational tone and contains dialogue and characters (the Sun and O’Hara) so at a first glance, it confounds students’ expectations of poetry. The poem is fairly straightforward, but has an enigmatic ending, which adds to its poetic quality. In class, I divided the students into two groups and had them debate whether or not this was a poem, coming up with as many reasons and textual examples as possible. Then I staged a debate, in which I had the students present their argument and allowed them to make rebuttals. I listed the pro/con points on the board, and, in the end, the pro team had more points (yes!). The activity helped to get students engaged and got them to think about what makes a poem a poem/ how dialogue changes when it is broken up into lines, etc. It would work well with any poem that at first glance seems “unpoetic,” such as New York School or Black Mountain School poetry. [K. Fowley,]