There’s just something about writing, reading, and teaching poetry. I don’t know why I am so drawn to this type of writing. Maybe it’s the challenge of writing something totally unique. Or maybe it’s the revising until my poetry is the most concise and impactful it can be. Yes, I like the challenge of poetry. I like that it’s creative wordplay too. The fact that a good poem can evoke such powerful feelings in such condensed language intrigues me. When I try to think back when I first started liking poetry, I can’t say that it was when I was very young. I know I must have been exposed to poetry in elementary school, but I don’t remember. I can clearly remember creating paintings in kindergarten and so art was a definite draw (Ha! I like puns!), but when exactly did I become interested in poetry? I remember reading poetry from Elizabeth Barrett Browning in high school. “How do I love thee, let me count the ways.” I was in love, so that explains why I liked that particular poem. And I remember studying some of Shakespeare’s sonnets, but I don’t remember anything before that. In my honors English class senior year, I wrote a poem having to do with time. I realized that, even at that young age, time is our greatest nemesis. I still believe that.
Now flash forward to today. I’ve been teaching high school English for almost 19 years. And my total teaching career spans 26 years. One of my goals in my classroom is to have student enjoy reading and writing poetry. So with that in mind, I do NOT start my poetry units with having the students study poetry scansion and meter. I keep in mind Billy Collins’ poem, Introduction to Poetry in which the speaker ( who in my mind might be a teacher) tries to get his students to:
take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
Within the last 6 months, I’ve created quite a few engaging poetry writing activities.
What I want to see is my students laughing about the poetry writing process. One way to do this is let them collaborate in writing poetry. Poetry With Friends let them work in a group to write a poem based on a word list I provide. They talk about diction, rhythm, connotations, vocabulary, and so much more as they negotiate meaning-making.
My latest creation is Jenga Poetry. Talk about fun and engaging! My students love this game, and once the game is done, they create a 10-line poem based on Jenga Poetry Tracker Sheet. Any time I can add meaningful gamification to my teaching, I try to do that. I’m not into gimmicks, but I really like creative ways to repurpose games like Jenga.
I used to worry about being sure to teach all the poetry terms and scansion skills, but now I’ve let most of that go. What good is it to know how to scan a poem, but you end up loathing poetry because of it? Yes, my students do read and annotate poetry. And some of the poems can be challenging, but my main focus is on playing with the language, and having my students not be afraid to read and write poetry.