Monday, March 21, 2005

Poetry in the Classrooms

It seems to me that poems are great nuggets for teaching--there's a concise moment that hits at theme, sense of character or place, and all sorts of other things that we try to pull out of a full text.

Some great resources for high school teachers on teaching poetry:

High School Poetry
Poetry 180

But to students, and a lot of teachers, poetry is frightening. It has had this unreachable place in literature that I hope to knock down a little bit for my students. That's why we're going to do a poem-a-day project. Each student will bring in a poem at some point in this first month of the trimester, and they'll have four to five minutes to talk about why they might have brought that poem in. They will then, in the end, create a class anthology of their favorite poems. I want them to have ownership in how it's created--we might even go over some of the things to consider while organizing it. Do we put it together chronologically, in the way that everyone brought their poems in? Do we arrange it thematically?

I also plan to use poems to supplement larger pieces of literature. For example, with To Kill a Mockingbird, I plan to somehow use the essay "White Privilege" (there are a few good links to teaching it) as well as find some great poems that speak of black experience in the 1930s American South. To Kill a Mockingbird is written by a white women, and Tom Robinson never gets a voice in the novel (nor does Boo). Because I don't have time to look at a novel-length text, I plan to supplement with poetry.

Here are two that I have brought in so far, followed by one I plan to use on Monday following break... For the first, I talked about how I send that to friends and family on the anniversary of 9/11. For the second, I talked about my Poetry of Rap class and how this particular poem really stood out to me.:

Keeping Quiet
by Pablo Neruda. (trans. Alastair Reid.)

And now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth
let's not speak in any language,
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about,
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.

Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I'll count up to twelve,
and you keep quiet and I will go.

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

Langston Hughes

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
     flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln 
     went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy 
     bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Introduction to Poetry

Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

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