Today I started my poetry unit with my Creative Writing class! It’s always one of my favorite days, because although I write nonfiction, poetry is my first love.
I also love this day because I get to spend most of a period breaking down students’ conceptions of what poetry is and isn’t.
“The Road Not Taken”? Yes, universally agreed. (Although we do talk about what the poem actually means, not what everyone thinks it means.)
Then I move into the land of free verse, acrostic poetry, and some really out-there experimental poems, like this one:
Or “Night Practice” by May Swenson, “The Murder of Two Men by a Kid Wearing Yellow-colored Gloves” by Kenneth Patchen, any of Mary Ellen Solt‘s concrete poetry, Alan Riddell’s “The Affair“:
My students, who have been carefully led to believe that all poetry looks and sounds the same and has Important Meaning, have never seen poems like these.
Poetry is as much about form and play and creativity and emotion as it is meaning; I tell them. As a poet myself, I’m rather horrified to think that a reader must only respond to my work with detached intellectual curiosity. (So was this poet.) That isn’t the point of art. And that shouldn’t be the point of our teaching of it, from the readers’ or the writers’ perspective.
Unfortunately, due to state testing, we don’t have class tomorrow, World Poetry Day. But as they left class today, I reminded them as they went home and wrote their first poems tomorrow, they should remember: poetry isn’t something to fear or stress about or feel like you’re going to “get wrong.” It lives in us. It’s our heartbeat. It just takes a little coaxing to get it to emerge.