Every 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.
World Poetry Day is recognized every year on March 21. This is the day in which UNESCO recognises the moving spirit of poetry and its transformative effect on culture. To honor World Poetry Day, take some time to read and explore writers from around the globe and bring their works into the classroom.
Durante degli Alighieri, simply called Dante, was a major Italian poet of the Late Middle Ages. His Divine Comedy is widely considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language and a masterpiece of world literature. “The Art of Imitation” invites students to craft verse-narratives that mimic the character, plot, and stylistic devices of Dante, as well as Chaucer.
Alastair Reid was a Scottish poet and a scholar of South American literature. Author Naorni Shihab Nye, in “Globos = Balloons“, shares the power of translating poems using a piece from Reid.
India’s Rabindranath Tagore authored a timeless poem, “The man had no useful
work.” “Classic Connections: Aiding Literary Comprehension through Varied Liberal Arts Alliances” explores using that poem as the inspiration for dramatic interpretation.
Rose Macaulay was an English novelist and writer. “Mimesis: Grammar and the Echoing Voice” uses an example by Rose Macaulay to show how she selected her words, as all the adjectives work hard in her description.
Henrik Ibsen was a Norwegian playwright, theatre director, and poet. This article from English Journal used a work from Ibsen to investigate students’ attitudes about
Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the most prominent English poets of the Victorian era, popular in Britain and the United States during her lifetime. This lesson plan from ReadWriteThink.org invites students into “Finding Poetry in Prose: Reading and Writing Love Poems“.
Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. I’m paraphrasing here, but the knowledge of the past and the words written to preserve that knowledge are waiting in books. Fiction. Nonfiction. Drama. Poetry. Add to that art and music and color and sound and rhythm and all the manifestations thereof, and we as humans survive and continue.
I remember a powerful short story that we read during a senior literature class I taught. I cannot recall the title, but it was about a music box—the last one in the world. The story took place after the final apocalypse, and basic human survival was a daily life-and-death struggle. And what was the most prized possession of the world in which everything had been destroyed? That music box. It was the only item left on the face of the earth that carried music and art and beauty. Wars were fought—not for food, but for that one piece of beauty. So I asked my students—do we need artistic expression to be fully human? Most of them decided that yes, we do.
What I do through my artistic expression is miniscule, compared to the magnitude of all we need to breathe and think. But I feel uplifted when I see a painting of a sunset that my heart recognizes. I feel satiated when I smell honeysuckle in the summer. I incorporate lots of sensory imagery in my writing—not because a writing professor told me to, but because that is how I inhale the world, how I process all the beauty of life.
Through writing, we have the opportunity to save humanity—one word at a time. I am so grateful to be part of the artistic process, to be one with the drummers and the singers and the photographers who capture a moment.
Reporters sometimes ask me, “Who is your audience?”
I reply, “People who read. People who think they don’t like to read. People who think and connect to others. People who are searching.”
As National Poetry Month winds down, consider inviting students to perform some of the poetry they have read and written throughout the month. Performing poetry allows students to read with expression, using their voice and gestures to convey the meaning of the text. With repeated readings of a poem, younger students become fluent readers and increase their comprehension. Older students analyze and develop their own interpretation of a poem’s meaning and representation through performance. Take a look at the following resources from NCTE and ReadWriteThink.org.
Performing poetry incorporates oral reading, literature, and the performing arts. This strategy can benefit content area readers, English language learners, or learners with special needs. Read more in this Strategy Guide.
In this lesson, students watch an example of poetry performed orally and then discuss elements of the performance that lead to reading fluency. Students then select a poem to perform in class. A performance critique sheet is used to evaluate performances and can be used for self-evaluation, peer evaluation, and teacher evaluation.
In this lesson plan, using their voices as interpretive instruments, students gain a deeper appreciation of the art of poetry as they prepare a recitation of the frequently anthologized poem “Those Winter Sundays”.
This blog post is written by R. Joseph Rodriguez, former Chair, NCTE College Section.
In the famous poem titled “Poetry,” Marianne Moore declares, “I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle” (28). What at first seems like an attack on poetry through a poem soon becomes a defense of it. Published in 1925, the poem is a fundamental statement about the value of poetry as it reflects life itself: essential, vital, and genuine.
Moore’s poem reminds us to appreciate our everyday and experience living more fully. During National Poetry Month 91 years later, the poem continues to startle and even awaken and excite my students. In class, we experiment with language and structure by writing a poem in the style of Moore. The first line is adapted to guide us on topics such as making one’s bed, attending English class, exercising daily, and eating breakfast.
Poetry invites readers to make connections across cultures, experiences, and time. We can become present in a poem as language and form make the poem part of what we experience at this moment, now.
A poem appears and takes a breath with us—from line to line. However, the reader gives the poem full breath and a fuller life with experience. In Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World, Jane Hirshfield explains, “Poetry’s work is not simply the recording of inner and outer perception; it makes by words and music new possibilities of perceiving. […] A work of art is not a piece of fruit lifted from a tree branch: it is a ripening collaboration of artist, receiver, and world” (3–4). Granted, all must be present at the table of poetry for reading and understanding: the creator, reader, and society.
Last year, a colleague and I visited a local mountain range encompassing three states and two countries with a view of 7,000 square miles. Known as the Franklin Mountains State Park, it covers a 24,256-acre patch of the Chihuahuan Desert in the middle of El Paso, Texas.
As we drove from the university campus toward the mountain, nature seemed massive and expansive before us. Wildlife appeared and greeted us, ranging from flowering cacti to birds, deer, insects, and reptiles in movement. When we boarded an aerial cable car to witness the topography and full view at Ranger Peak, 5,632 feet above sea level, another world appeared via all our senses while in motion.
Our eyes awake became our memorable camera as we experienced the vista and natural splendor on earth—as we would experience a poem.
The aerial lift had five spectators: two professors, a father and son, and a park ranger. As we ascended, I imagined what awaited us at the peak. Soon the ranger introduced us to the east side of range, which is part of the Franklin Mountains, and the story behind the mountain, park, and view. Because I wanted a fuller picture, I asked about the earliest inhabitants of the region, but the four-minute ride limited our sharing. As I walked on, I noted that the ranger and historical markers overlook the earliest people who frequented the mountains, the Mansos, and thus their recorded experience is absent.
In contrast, in the following narrative poem I attempt to document the historical presence of the Mansos, who are essential and vital to the story of this natural landscape and view.
Variation on a Theme by Lucille Clifton
on the cable car at Sierra de los Mansos, 2nd May 2015
nobody says the names
the given names by first peoples
to rocks once moved so moved
by the people calling this home
now unidentified and indistinct
instead we only hear of purchases
and treasures galore of land
the ranger remembers with glories
claimed yet he does not know
the names we know of the sacred
rocks and hands once touching earth
some bodies sat here and carved
mountains of lineage with rocks
fed fish and manna on these rocks
how waters once flooded the land
shaping rocks and adobe we behold
before us as we ascend into the sky
and rock bed flowers bloom
we know the rocks must know
their own deserted names
and our ancestral names
even if we misremember
or forget to ask what pages
were rewritten without us
without telling what was
and is native and holy here
somebody manifested another
telling by making one history
after the coming of franklin in 1848
erasing some memories and names
we remember and pronounce
Influenced by the poem “at the cemetery, walnut grove plantation, south carolina, 1989” by Lucille Clifton, the poem serves as a counter narrative and a response to my scenic excursion in nature. The coming of Benjamin Franklin Coons, for whom the mountains are now named, changed local economies, geographies, and names.
In all forms, poetry reminds us to be human and humane. Poetry can transform and fuel our imagination as we gain understanding and reflect on the poem’s conversation alongside our living experience. In the essay “Pintura: Palabra” found in the March 2016 issue of Poetry, Francisco Aragón connects Latino visual artists with poets for the “creation of art-inspired poetry” to advance a dialogue. (587). I found it revealing how poetry and life become essential, vital, and genuine in our everyday through the arts and in our classrooms.
With our students, we can experience the vital and reciprocal relationships that poetry can fuel in our everyday lives. This effect can occur across literary tables with memories, stories, and names we seek, find, and pronounce to make poetry come alive.
R. Joseph Rodríguez is assistant professor of Literacy and English Education at The University of Texas at El Paso, located on the border across from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, México. His research interests include children’s and young adult literatures, socially responsible biliteracies, and academic writing. Catch him virtually @escribescribe or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.