Tag Archives: Poetry

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 Nicole Mirra

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

National Poetry Month – Dramatic Poetry

dramaticAfter looking at narrative poetry and lyric poetry, let’s look at dramatic poetry! Dramatic poetry can be thought of as any drama written in verse which is meant to be spoken, usually to tell a story or portray a situation. This type of poetry appears in varying, sometimes related forms in many cultures. Here are some resources on dramatic poetry from NCTE and ReadWriteThink.org

Arguing that analysis of the musical qualities of poetry is often avoided, the author of “Learning to Listen, Listening to Learn: Teaching Poetry as a Sensory Medium” presents strategies teachers can use to help students understand how these elements contribute to constructing meaning. He relates the musical qualities of poetry to similar features of popular music. A poem from Ben Jonson is used as an example. “Finding Poetry in Prose: Reading and Writing Love Poems” from ReadWriteThink.org also highlight’s a Jonson poem.

In “Masters as Mentors: The Role of Reading Poetry in Writing Poetry” the author shares how to present well-known poems andsuggests ways students can pen their own poetic responses to them. “This technique is a wonderful way to prompt student creativity, as it gives children specific guidelines without limiting their
spontaneity.” A piece from dramatic poet Christopher Marlowe is used as one of the examples in the article.

A classic example of dramatic poetry is “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. “Reimagining Coleridge’s ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ through Visual and Performing Arts Projects” invites students ti incorporate film, painting, performance, and other arts in their imaginative and innovative responses to a classic work.

How does dramatic poetry play out in your classroom?

National Poetry Month – Lyric Poetry

lyricWe’re now in our second week of celebrating National Poetry Month! Last week, we looked at narrative poetry. This week our focus is lyric poetry. A lyric poem is a short poem of songlike quality. Lyric poetry is a genre that, unlike epic and dramatic poetry, does not attempt to tell a story but instead is of a more personal nature while focusing on thought and emotion. The following resources from NCTE and ReadWriteThink.org support work with lyric poetry.

Poetry Made Easy: Of Swag and Sense” shares how a ninth grade teacher used lyric poetry in her classroom. They explored how imagery reifies theme, how musical devices create mood, and how diction affects theme and mood. Connections were made later to concepts with the prose and drama they read thereafter.

‘Beautiful’ Poetry: Tuning In to Poetry through Rhythm” taps into the music of
language, to introduce rhythm and beat in poetry, and help students hear metrical patterns.

John Donne provides a great example of lyric poetry. His poetry is noted for its vibrancy of language and is often considered the greatest love poet in the English language. “Donne’s ‘The Token’: A Lesson in the Fashion(ing) of Canon” examines the work of Donne as part of Renaissance literature.

To work more with lyric poetry, pass out an example of the Italian sonnet “What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, and Where, and Why (Sonnet XLIII)” by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Have three students read the poem aloud, one at a time. This technique, touted by Sheridan Blau, helps students to get immersed in the poem. By the third reading, students have had time to absorb the readings and think about possible meanings.

What other ideas are there for incorporating lyric poetry?

Poems that Tell a Story

narrative-poetryEach year the month of April is set aside as National Poetry Month, a time to celebrate poets and their craft. Various events are held throughout the month by the Academy of American Poets and other poetry organizations. Follow along this month as we unpack some genres of poetry and find related resources from NCTE and ReadWriteThink.org.

We will kick off with looking at narrative poetry. This genre of poetry tells a story, usually with a human interest element. Narrative poetry combines poetic language with short-story elements and is thought to be the oldest type of poetry. “Poetry Preference Research: What Young Adults Tell Us They Enjoy” shares that the most popular type of poem chosen by a survey of students was the narrative.

Edgar Allen Poe wrote narrative poetry and one example is “The Raven”. The lesson plan “Modeling Reading and Analysis Processes with the Works of Edgar Allan Poe” invites students to explore reading strategies using “The Raven” and other works. Students read Poe’s works in both large- and small-group readings then conclude with a variety of projects.

Chaucer also provides examples of narrative poetry. However, high school students can see reading The Canterbury Tales as daunting. “Avoid the Edifice Complex and Enjoy Teaching Chaucer” shares lessons “combining the literary and the vulgar” that fully engage the students with the text. Another strategy is to explore The Prologue to The Canterbury Tales using wikis.

What narrative poems are used in your classroom?

Celebrate March Madness — with Poetry!

blankbracketresizedEvery March, NCTE hosts a March Madness Poetry Tournament. The idea is to create a basketball tournament-pairing chart like the NCAA does each year in March using poetry and to determine a final winner by reading the poems.

There are numerous ways to choose a “winner”:

  • The students select the poems – The teacher lets the students select their favorite poems and then creates the tournament brackets. Two students read their poems in front of the class. The class votes and the winning poems advance to the next round. The process continues until the final four and eventual winner are selected.
  • The teacher selects the poems – The teacher selects 64 (or 32) poems and reads them in pairs, one pair each day. The students select the one they like best. This poem is then declared a winner and advances along the tournament bracket. Another day and another match-up occurs and so on until all poems are read once. The second round of play starts then. Again, select two of the first-round winners in the proper order and brackets and read these again. Again, the class votes and so on until the final four and eventual winner are selected.
  • A combination of student and teacher selected – The teacher and students select the poems. Then, a combination of the teacher and students read the poems.

Some specific ideas were shared in this article from the Language Arts Journal of Michigan.

Read about past tournaments and get a blank bracket-pairing chart to start your own tournament today!