Category Archives: Poetry


Poetry and English Education

To celebrate National Poetry Month, we will be posting poems that originally ran in one of the ten journals published by NCTE. This poem “To the Loud Mouth in Room 114: An Elegy” by Jeff Spanke comes from English Education:

To the Loud Mouth in Room 114: An Elegy
I see you standing on the six inch stage up front,
wrinkled Oxford sleeves rolled to the elbow,
matching shoes and belt, a power clashing tie,
all fittingly worn—
the student-centered sage waiting to change the ways
they embrace the world:
your fresh clay to mold into busts
of justice and peace and hope and yourself,
the revival of a spirit that comfort ignores.
They close the door and turn forward to feast
upon the riches you’ve sworn to provide.
Worms to the birds, all infant and chaste.
You have arrived. You will succeed. You are above
the stigma and crap that cripple your colleagues
from those classes you took before you Became.
You are a teacher, both identity and function.
You’ve earned this moment, this space.
You swear you’ll never hurt them.
I want to go up to that Me and slap his face,
Shut Up, I’d plead—you won’t last five years.
You’re going to lose here, curse the Leaders,
damn the System, and spread blame
like pneumonia.
You’ll never own your fault, in whole, though,
and you’ll hurt them when you leave.
You were great today; they needed tomorrow.
Don’t show that movie, don’t send that email.
Answer that parent and do your job.
Grade what you assign, and don’t resign
without a humble fight.
Go to the meetings and sleep
with eyes open and engaged.
Pass out their stupid tests; then teach
democracy, metaphors, commas, and Wow.
Shutting your mouth can’t silence you.
They give you braces if you’re not white and straight,
but you don’t need teeth to smile.
There’ll always be tests.
Don’t resist accountability.
You have a house and a family,
a name to protect and a plate
they’ll take off your door and throw in the trash
with the rest of the shit they find in lockers
when school’s over.
You’ll scare your baby when you cry,
And the loss of sleep will grease your hair and
make your breath reek of mourning.
Your wife will count quarters, keep coupons.
She’ll work longer hours and start searching
for cheaper daycares.
You’ll lie on Thanksgiving and die inside
when Dad says he’s proud.
Just Stop, I’d tell the Loud Mouth Me.
You don’t have to lose.
They need you close and can’t afford the cost
of your textbook excuses.
The mine may be toxic,
but you’re more than a canary.
Teach for the students, the kids in their seats:
Not their parents, your principal, the Super,
or anyone else.
Don’t let them beat you.
Find a wind farm, a dam, or some other source
of power—Or don’t.
Change some lives, fight the fight,
the school will blink, and you’ll be gone.
You’ll be me.
An ornithologist, grounded.

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Poetry and College English

During National Poetry Month, we posted poems that originally ran in one of the ten journals published by NCTE. This poem “A Professor Attends a Poetry Reading” by James E. Robinson comes from College English and wraps up our celebration:

A Professor Attends a Poetry Reading
I sat up front to avoid
the backs of heads
It is important to fix attention
on the eyes
And gesture
and hear the voice take flight
A reading is a prosopopoeia
an imitation of the act
that bent the being of the poet
into the poem
in the first place

Earlier that day I was glad enough
To have an audience
Go one way
And me another
Leaving the paper lecture
Afloat in the afternoon
But now I would take hold
In the night drawn rearrangement
And let the poet fix me with his meaning
As he pleased
The poem went on
And I missed pretty much the whole thing
It was about a poet being a paper poet
Building a paper house
It went up in smoke
I don’t think that was in the poem
Rather it was something that crossed my mind
But then maybe the poet meant it to

I thought perhaps I should have sat in back
To see what others do
When listening
What did alabaster girls and boys
I build in classrooms
Hear there
In the air
Where the poem was hanging
The poem went on
And I missed pretty much the whole thing
It was about a fountain and a statue
And water pouring over thighs
And down the drain
I don’t think that was in the poem
But it crossed my mind
But then maybe he meant it to

The poet wore a dark grey suit
And a dark blue shirt and tie
The face was cut from something hard
And the voice was round and clear
And the poem was solid sound
Between us all
And still I wondered what he was to me
And the others
Or I or they to him
Who is audit of which fleeting presence
Which life is rounded by which sleep
Which poem should I take hold of
As I was meant to do

The words came from the dark clothes
Vaguely priestly
And the hard face
Vaguely smiling
Like ballet steps and patterns
Which I chased across the stage
And round the room
The poem went on
And I missed pretty much the whole thing
It was about a boy bewitched by a balloonist
And an irritated father with a broken pipe
Pulling the boy away
Into thin air
Or was it the balloonist who disappeared
Whatever it was that crossed my mind
Was gone before I could be quite sure
I caught something of what he meant me to

When it was over
All the alabaster girls and boys
Gathered round to shake the hard hand
Of the Ballet Priest and Paper Poet
And I wanted to say something too
Because I had had a good time
But as the poem went on
In the room
And in the scattering crowd
And in the air outside
Having never said hello
Having failed to say goodbye
Having missed pretty much the whole thing
I just went away
As I think I was meant to do

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Poetry and College Composition and Communication

During National Poetry Month, we will be posting poems that originally ran in one of the ten journals published by NCTE. This poem “Syllabus” by Michael True comes from College Composition and Communication:

You will teach me, first, my students,
the character of my indifference,
and the dark confusion of being young;
I will teach you, then, my students,
the hope that lies beneath the surface,
a love inherent in the nature of things.
Follow the course of it to the end of knowing;
gather the thread of it line by line.

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Poem in Your Pocket Day 2017

Every April, on Poem in Your Pocket Day, people celebrate by selecting a poem, carrying it with them, and sharing it with others throughout the day at schools, bookstores, libraries, parks, workplaces, and on Twitter using the hashtag #pocketpoem.  –Academy of American Poets

Here are some ideas to help you celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 27!


Still looking for a poem for your pocket? Try this one – with a title perfect for this day!

Can Poetry Help Us To Shape a More Just World?

Can Poetry Help Us To Shape a More Just World?

This is the fourth installment of the NCTE Citizenship Campaign, a blog series sponsored by the NCTE Standing Committee on Citizenship. This month’s theme is using poetry to spark civic engagement. It is written by Duane Davis.

My first instinct as a teacher of English and longtime member of NCTE was to put this month’s theme together through song lyrics.  This would likely have resulted in a deconstruction of the work of Kendrick Lamar, Tupac Shakur, and certainly a mention of Nikki Giovanni’s Poem, “For Tupac.”  I also considered an exploration of poetic justice through the lens of the current political assault on education.

Instead, I decided to ditch both of those ideas and use this space to discuss the work and life of the recently fallen poet, Derek Walcott.  In the proud tradition of “artist on the margins,” Walcott embarked on a journey to create a myth on the level of Beowulf and Virgil, in his epic poem Omeros. I have been fortunate in my life to have English instructors who exposed me to art that challenged my view of the world, my community and myself. In Walcott I found someone who spoke to the ideas that were circulating in my head: global racial formation and its effects on space, language, and identity.  If you don’t know Walcott already, here are some links to explore:

Walcott’s poem is epic and Afro-futuristic and magical realism and intersectional rolled into one.  Ultimately, he reminds us through his work that with art at the center, understanding and acceptance can be the norm and not the outlier. It is not enough to observe and comment on society. You have to enact and activate in order to seek the justice necessary for equity and equality.

As educators, we have to remember that our daily choices, from the greeting at the door (for all levels), to the selection of text, to the type of assessments we give, illuminate our beliefs about the world—who we read, how we interact and what we say.  To that end, I am also including a few links to national poetry organizations that encourage student voice and often through the subject matter explore issues of equality and justice.

While it is not our job to imbue students with our personal ideology, it is our job to give them the tools necessary to critically understand, reflect, respond and evaluate their world and their own ideology.  Poetry is a vehicle for reading and learning the views of others and exploring our own ways of seeing the world.

More Poetry Resources