Even if it werent National Poetry Month, April would make me think of poetry. As soon as I realized it was April, my brain automatically began chanting to me:
Whan that aprill with his shoures sooteI can usually stop it at that point, and yes, I honestly recite the poem in middle English. Im a medievalist at heart, and as a student, I memorized and performed lines from The Canterbury Tales. The words are alive and fresh for me.
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour
In a world where poems seem to be dead words upon printed pages, students may find it odd for a poem to live and breathe for a reader; but poetry performance can bring such energy to a text that, as The Canterbury Tales has for me, it can stick with readers for years.
In Chapter 12 of Wordplaygrounds: Reading, Writing, and Performing Poetry in the English Classroom, John S. OConnor asks:
Why is rejoicing locked up in books? Why can’t schools offer a place for rejoicing? Why do we maintain rigid distinctions between disciplines? Why can’t poems, for example, be seen through other media—music, art, dancing, theater? Why do students often see so little connection between their lives in and out of school? Poetry can provide such a connection. (139)
.As we encourage students to explore poetry with the many 21st Century literacy skills that are part of their world, they may perform sonnets as rap or compose video explorations of haiku. A free-verse poem may rethought as a PowerPoint slide show illustrating the various images in the poem. We can ask students to set favorite poems to music, to create theatrical presentations of poetry, and to illustrate the poems they enjoy. Even a simple podcast of a poem can be expanded sound effects, background music, and the readers vocal expression. When we ask students to perform and explore poetry in such ways, we help ensure that poetry is always a living thing for students.