I think I’ve mentioned before that I used to avoid poetry. Now, I’m really not pointing fingers at anyone — okay, yeah I am — but I blame it on my teachers. Not one of them shared poetry just for the love of poetry — of rhythm and words and images often cloaked in color and emotion. Not one. Not one used poetry as inspiration for other writing. It was always analyze this and write a paper on it. Bleh. My least favorite kind of writing.
Good poems have the potential to be great teaching tools. Sure, analysis but so much more. If we want students to love language or even play with it in their writing, we have to expose them to language worth loving — and encourage them to make paper swords and sequin-shiny shoes with it. Inviting students to write beside poems with us is one good starting place.
This month Shana and I attended the Poetry Foundation Conference for teachers in Chicago. We read, talked, listened to, and explored poems for a week. (And slept on the worst dorm beds possible.)
The thing about immersing yourself in poetry for a week is this: You start seeing poetry
everywhere. Billboards, names on shops, menus in restaurants, bikers on the path along Lake Michigan, ceramic swans cuddling on the other side of a pane glass window, and pizza!!
Poetry is like an English teacher with a brand new set of 36 Flair pens. Color everywhere!
In my workshop classroom, we share a lot of poetry. Sometimes just for the love of it. Sometimes to talk about. Sometimes to inspire us to write.
Here’s a few poems (and a lesson plan) my group and I collected for our project at the poetry conference. We titled our presentation Boundaries & Borders: Exploring Poetry Beyond our Front Yard (That’s a shout out to Gwendolyn Brook’s “a song in the front yard.”) I’ll tell ya, we hashed around a topic for a long time and finally decided that reading poems that help us explore our personal and societal boundaries might make an interesting backdoor into exploring identity, which is a topic many of us develop out thematically using a variety of other texts in our courses. If nothing else, the images we collected (all found at Unsplash) might be interesting to use to prompt student thinking.
If you’re looking for other topics, take a look at the Poetry Foundation. There’s so much there! And if you like podcasts, you might like this one: the Slowdown with Tracy K. Smith. It’s my first-ever podcast listen, and I’m hooked.
So, what are some good poems to write beside? You decide. And please share some of the poems you love in the comments!
Note: This post is a part of a series. It’s based primarily on the most frequent questions about readers-writers workshop asked at our workshop trainings. For more see here.
Amy Rasmussen is a teacher, writer, artist, and house-plant enthusiast. She lives near Dallas, TX and is a believer in all things that make us better humans. Follow her @amyrass