Slice of Life Tuesday- A Plethora of Poetry Possibilities

It is April and that means National Poetry Month in the USA! I vividly recall during my six years living and working in the US how schools went into poetry mode each April. I found this focus on poetry left me in a quandary. I love poetry, so this national focus on poetry was something that greatly impressed me. It brought this ancient genre to centre stage and I considered that was something our Australian schools could learn from. Poetry in such a supportive environment began to shed its elitist cloak. It became accessible to the broader school population.
 However, something began to gnaw away at me as each successive April celebration unfolded. I became concerned that in the minds of many educators poetry was being constrained to a single month in the school calendar.

I wanted to encounter poetry across the school year, but it seemed tightly confined to the month of April in the minds of many. I wanted poetry to pop up unexpectedly; at various times of the school day, and in different subject areas. I waited patiently, but it only appeared sporadically. It had a mercurial air to it. I started advocating for poetry, suggesting it to the teachers with whom I worked. I found myself desparate to plant poetry possibilities.

Additionally, April poetry encounters often followed a very familiar refrain for many teachers. Successive groups of students were fed a steady diet of haiku and acrostic poems and little else. When one considers how diverse poetry is as a writing form, it seemed that teachers were sitting firmly in the comfort zone. Probationary poets however often find haiku quite challenging as an initial writing experience. Its defined structure requires a degree of orchestration and language mastery on the part of the writer, that many find daunting. Limericks fall into the same category.

Acrostic poems are fine if your name is Veronica or Mitchell, but you don’t have much to play with if you happen to Li, Ty or Hu!

When young writers are having their early encounters with poetry, it’s important that the experience be positive. As teachers we need to set them up to be successful, That way they are more likely to return for more- to persist! Initially they need to see and hear lots of poetry. Immersion before writing means we avoid cold starts!

Innovating on text patterns is often a good place to begin. Following patterns that provide the inexperienced poet with scaffolding for their initial efforts with verse is similar to the way training wheels support the inexperienced bicycle rider.

I often use Margaret Wise Brown’s, The Important Book with its distinctive pattern as a launching pad. This wonderful classic has worked for me every time.

The important thing about _____ is that it is _______.
It is _______.
It is _______.
And it is _______.
But the important thing about _______ is that it is _______.

Shanet, a Grade four poet innovated further on the pattern in  her reponse:
\BALLOON
The important thing about a balloon is that it starts out flat!
When it gets blown up it is different colors
When you let it go it goes around and around then it falls on the floor
It’s shiny
And it holds air
But, the important thing about a balloon is that it starts out FLAT!

Some additional ideas to consider to get things started might include:

*Three Question Poem
n      Where are you?
n      What are you doing?
n      What are you thinking?

*Select a short poem and remove certain words (those in italics) and have students attempt to reconstitute the poem using words of their own choosing. There is no one correct answer here. The idea is to make them aware of word choice.

Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night-
And I love the rain

Langston Hughes

*In the following example, students are given a number of choices and this enhances control and ownership over the resultant poem. They choose the order of the statements and number of statements they wish to use to construct their poem. They may also add some of their own. They may choose to change the setting…

In The City
I see…..
I hear….
I watch….
I smell….
I enjoy…..
I taste…..
I want…..
I wish…..

*I like to use list poems as they have an extremely high success rate with beginning writers. List poems are represented in many cultures and are an old form of poetry.  Douglas Florian uses this form in a lot of his poetry. I usually begin by sharing one of my list poems and ask the students to tell me what they notice about the structure. They tend to notice the variety of line length, the use of white space at the end and the surprise ending. I challenge them to incorporate these language elements into their own writing.

 SCAREDY CAT MEMORIES
I used to be afraid of the dentist’s drill,
Creaky floorboards
And snakes at the end of my bed
Electricity
Knives and guns
Haircuts
Monsters lurking in the shadows
And dogs in the night
Nightmares
People with missing teeth
And big kids who harass you for being- little
Bee stings
Getting lost
Sharks
And drowning in quicksand
Baldness
My Nana’s toilet
And roosters

But now I’m afraid of ignorance.

Alan j Wright

*I usually reserve rhyming verse until the end of any intense work on poetry. Let’s face it, it’s fun, but most young poet’s find it difficult to control the beast. We often end up reading inane pieces of verse where a word is tacked on the end of a line purely because it rhymes rather than fits focus of the poem. I call it the Moon,June and spoon  syndrome!

For this reason, I start quite small with rhyming verse, by introducing rhyming couplets as a cloze exercise and work from there. I am guided by the gradual release of responsibility model. As the writer gains confidence working through such exercises, I might only provide the first line and ask them to complete a second line. Lots of guided practice is needed. Interactive and shared writing are also useful instructional strategies to employ at this point. Finally, I get them to create their very own rhyming couplet

I Met A Man

As I was traveling to New York
I met a man who loved to………

He talked to me of many things
Apples, apes and angel’s ………

His words were like a sweet refrain
And now they’re deep inside my …….

Alan j Wright

So, there you have it. A smattering of alternatives. I have barely skimmed the surface of what’s possible with poetry. I guess my message is poetry presents a plethora of possibilities…


Comments

  1. I am always a bit apprehensive about writing poetry. I tried it during the SOLC and I was pleased with the results. Thank you for giving me some great suggestions to keep myself going on this journey.

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  2. Love it! I always cringe at the rhyming poems that kids create - for exactly the reasons you state. *chuckles* I didn't intend to make that rhyme.

    I like to have the kids read poems and use those as models. Having a structure to alter always makes the resulting works stronger.

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  3. I share your amazement with the focus of poetry in April that, I think, grew out of some WWP work somewhere. It is something we MUST revisit, I believe, in light of the Common Core Standards and in light of testing preparations that conuse much of April in many classrooms. In MY interpretation of the Common Core Standards, poetry as well as informational texts, plays,and historical fiction need to be woven into every unit of study all year through. This, in my opinion, will return poetry to its proper perspective of being a way to look at everything with a poetic perspective!

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  4. Let's make September National Poetry Month, and May too. I think we should always begin and end with poetry. It shapes us and gives us a unique way to say what we want to say. Thanks for the plethora of possibilities. I plan to make every day poetry day in April, but we have this week off and then testing, so National Poetry Month won't start until April 18. I think I will carry it on until the end of the year. I plan to start with acrostic, then bio-poems, then cinquain...

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  5. Your ideas are good ones I will share, Alan, with those teachers who are reluctant to put poems into the ears of students all year long. It seems that some teachers are carrying that legacy of Poetry Month in the US from their own schooling, thus that's what they feel they must do in April. Or, they don't read poetry, so struggle with finding a poem to share at any one time. One idea I might add is spending time outdoors with students as much as possible, observing, taking notes from all the senses, looking for comparisons, then crafting the lines together into poems of experience. That jumping off point can then move into other experiences, like your Scaredy Cat poem, etc. I love The Important Book and have used it with older students too; yours is a great idea for a spark into a poem. Thanks for all!

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  6. I love your poetry writing suggestions Alan. I'm stealing ALL OF THEM!
    Bonnie

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  7. Yes, Alan! What a great post! I will be copying this to share with teachers because you give such great specific suggestions. Last week I was modeling a lesson and we were creating a poem. One little boy said that's not a poem it doesn't rhyme. How sad that he only has experienced poetry that rhymes. I think I have read that Katie Wood Ray says, "Before a student can write a poem, they need to have read/heard at least a hundred poems." Let's get more poetry into the class, not just in April!

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  8. I full heartedly agree that poetry can be present all year round. It can be used for teaching writer's craft and writing process but more important is to provide the opportunity to learn to enjoy reading and hearing poems. One of my favorite mentors for teaching poetry is Valerie Worth with her small poems. I also keep Georgia Heard's Awakening the Heart close by. Kids love Jack Prelutsky. The great thing about National Poetry Month in USA is that it provides abundance of resources: poems, interviews, teaching tips, poets reading poems. Your blog added some tips to use.
    Keep spreading your message!

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  9. Thank you for all the suggestions and samples! Great starting points.

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  10. There you have it! I just decided that you are now my new poetry coach. I've always wanted to be more skilled at writing poetry; however, it can be a tough thing because there seems to be many preconceived ideas of how poetry should look and sound like. When I am trying to write a poem that has a more serious undertone, I never include rhyme because when I do include it, it begins to sound silly. I may be one of those "moon, June, spoon" people! After reading your post, I realize that I need to practice more and let go of those "poetry rules" that I was taught growing up.

    This is definitely a post I will be returning to often. Thanks, Alan!

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  11. Thanks for your post Alan Wright! I will be sharing it with other teachers!

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  12. Eloquently stated and much appreciated!

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  13. Such great ideas! With your ideas, there are no excuses - everyone can write poetry!

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