Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Writing Poetry: Putting Chaos into Perspective

As National Poetry Month approaches, I have to make a confession. Though I find it rewarding and enjoyable to read poetry with students and deepen their appreciation of poetry through response and analysis, I never asked students to write their own poetry. Never.

There are a number of ways I can rationalize this pedagogical choice. Chief among those reasons is the far greater curricular pressure in high school to develop students’ ability to write about poetry rather than to create poems themselves. But, in truth, I was succumbing to a stimulus even more powerful than anything so logical: I was afraid.

I don’t write poetry. I have no formal training in how to teach students to write a poem. And, most significantly, I have no sense of how to respond to student poetry. With apologies to Edna St. Vincent Millay, adolescent chaos in fourteen lines was not something I felt equipped to face. I’m not even going to bring into the discussion the idea of evaluation (or, worse yet, grading). The entire process seemed beyond my grasp.

Then I participated in the Summer Institute of a the local Writing Project site and did what you’re supposed to do there: I took a risk as a writer. Given the freedom in morning writing time to ponder, compose, and revise—and with the knowledge that I could share this piece with a community of supportive and invested readers, or keep it private, or throw it away and never mention that I tried—I did it. I wrote a poem.

I’m confident that even this single creative act is enough to embolden me to offer students the chance to write poetry in my class. I certainly don’t have the answers to all the conundrums I posed—how to teach poetry writing, how to respond to student poetry, how to evaluate it—at least not yet.

But with apologies to another poet, now I’m willing to travel down that road that I’d chosen not to take before.

28 comments:

bellavolup said...

How brave of you! I love to write poetry and have had my students do some poetic analysis - but with only three weeks to teach poetry - I focus on having them write poetry - using Image Grammar and Nancy Atwell's book on Writing Workshop. It's great - has blackline masters and student work to show the kids what they, too, can do if they "use the Power of I," and "break lines," and "cut to the bone." I have had a wonderful time with the kids this year and can't wait to do it again next year. Good for you - I usually, unless a student has not responded at all to the request for poetic devices or participles or I or such, I usually give them 100 for completing - because it's just that kind of thing. You can't really evaluate it like you can in college - you'll break some kids' hearts. :) Kudos!

laurasalas said...

Congratulations on writing your first poem! I do hope you'll give students the opportunity to write in or out of the classroom, and I hope you'll even share your uncertainty about poetry with them. Your willingness to dive into things you don't feel totally competent in will just demonstrate that poetry is about the doing, not the grading.

I'm a children's poet and a former 8th-grade English teacher, and it's amazing to see what poems kids will write given the time, encouragement, and freedom. They truly don't need a lot of teaching, just permission:>)

Anonymous said...

I found this quite interesting as I did the same thing this year. While I had written poems before, in 40 years, I had only two I liked. I took an online poetry class through the Writing Project at Miami University in Ohio. I now have approximately 10 poems I like! My project for the class was to work through a suggested classroom unit as though I were the student. I created a SmartBoard poetry unit that I used with my students this past semester culminating in my first Poetry Slam. I told my students that I didn't expect them to be extraordinary poems by the end of the unit, but I did expect them to have a few more poems they wrote that thought weren't half-bad. In terms of assessment, I went with a poetry portfolio so that I wasn't just grading the final product but the process as well. The Slam was a success and many students commented, "That was a lot more fun than I thought it was going to be." I am now going through it with different classes second semester and have high hopes. I chose the class on poetry because I suspect like you, I thought thia was an area where I could only improve. Thanks for sharing!

Anastasia Suen said...

Good for you! I'm so glad you gave it a try! As a visiting poet, I've taught poetry in K-12 classrooms.

I prefer to start small, by brainstorming a few words, and then adding details to those words to stretch them into phrases.

I don't teach poetic forms in these sessions. Instead, I ask students to jot down words and with those words they create a poem from their own life experience.

Write what you know is the adage, and it's true. Student writing is the most vivid and accessible when it comes from their own lives.

I invite your readers to send me student poems during poetry month. I'll be posting one student poem a day on my Poetry Month blog, Pencil Talk.

white5963 said...

I feel the same as you do about poetry and allowing students to write their own. However, I do allow them to try at least once, but I never, ever evaluate their poems beyond responding on a strictly emotional level. I try to find something in each poem that I can connect with and then comment on that. Some students groan about the task at first, but most are proud of their effort when finished.

Nan said...

I think it can be very difficult to teach students how to write poetry and have others respond to their poems. I have found the resources on ReadWriteThink to be very helpful. I was given ideas on how to teach poetry writing as well as how to assess their writing. Check it out: www.readwritethink.org.

Anonymous said...

If you can find one of those "romantic" books about teaching writing, "Telling Writing" by Ken Macrorie, you'll find a chapter named "What is Good Writing?"
In it you'll find several ideas (tho' he didn't intend them that way) to help you respond to your students' work, poetry or otherwise.
Hurray for the Writing Project!

Teacher said...

When I teach Middle School students how to write poetry, I start by assigning them a descriptive poem about themselves or someone in their family.

This has been a very successful project, and it teaches sensory language and description.

I ask for several drafts of the poem, and then I require them to word process the finished poem in a traditional form as well as an artistic form of their choice.

They enjoy the freedom to choose their own fonts and colors on the second version, and I enjoy their creativity.

custom essay said...

Im writing poetry myself and I read it in front of my friends. Probably I will create a collection out of that.

Michelle said...

I think it is great that you allowed yourself to think outside the box and venture to write poetry. Even if there are teachers who are taught to teach the subject, it is sometimes very difficult to understand it themselves, especially if they don't have any background in writing it. I am a senior English major with a specialization in Creative Writing and hope to have my own class at the college level. Even though my knowledge is focused more on the creative end, I think this will help both adults and students look at the formal poetry in order to understand it better as well as appreciate it more. I think we learn to fear poetry when we are in the elementary school level because it is something other than prose; something very foreign to us where we don't have access to it. I believe it should definitely start with the teacher having a certain level of comfort with it, both reading and writing, before the fear unknowingly spreads to the student.

Anonymous said...

Bravo!

I think the only way to be able to truly analyze a poem with the carefully consideration of how it was created in the first place is to have experience actually writing poetry. You have taken a great first step to becoming even better at teaching your students to analyze poetry.

Henry Lawson Poems said...

I was inspired by your comments on teaching poetry, if you teach poetry you often gives parameters and rules as what can and cannot be done and limit the outcome, your way doesn't.

custom essay writer said...

You have to write some poetry first to realise how it is before you teach the students. It will be very hard to answer questions on poetry before you try to write by yourself

Jessica Lee said...

When I was a student of the University, we frequently did some poetical analysis, but never got the task to create our own verses. Maybe such task is a good chance for the students to manifest their deep feelings and thoughts. I’ll use the info for my custom term paper.

buy essay said...

I think it's hard to be a poetry teacher for the ordinary person. One has to love poetry to be a good teacher

thesis writing said...

Nancy Atwell's book on Writing Workshop. It's great - has blackline masters and student work to show the kids what they, too, can do if they "use the Power of I," and "break lines,"

resume writing said...

I think you're totally right with your approach. And congrats on your first poem!

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