Monday, April 07, 2008

April is Poetry Month

Actually, it's only Poetry Month in the US. Australia doesn't have a Poetry Month, or even a Poetry Week. I think we have one Poetry Day on 1 September, but my guess is that more Australians know that 17 September is World Talk Like a Pirate Day than know about Poetry Day. Arrrrr!

There are currently lots of websites and blogs promoting poetry for kids, in the classroom and generally. The CCBC Discussion Board is talking about poetry anthologies, and the ongoing issue of why more teachers don't teach or use poetry in the classroom. Mostly it seems to be because they don't know how to teach it. A few people have commented that if a teacher doesn't enjoy poetry and doesn't read it, there's little likelihood they'll include it in their classroom activities.

Some of the other issues are about "killing" a poem by dissecting it to death, using poems in classroom comprehension tests (another way of strangling a poem) and the teacher who reads out loud in a way that condemns a poem to the Boring Bin in a second. People also complain that they don't understand poems, that they're "too hard", and I can sympathise with that. But who said you have to understand every single thing? That is the joy of a poem - when it speaks to you on some other level that you can't pin down, but it makes you feel that you have just experienced something amazing and true. And there are hundreds of great poems that are easily understandable and still offer much to the reader. Accessibility in poetry is not about dumbing down!

When Billy Collins was Poet Laureate, he created a website of 180 poems for teachers (or everyone) to use - poems that weren't obscure or meaningless, poems that would provoke discussion, poems that showed the world in a different way. Even if all you did was read one poem per day out loud (without analysing it), you could create sparks of inspiration and maybe the desire to write a poem or two.

I like the idea of reading lots of poems and simply talking about what one of the poems says to you, then writing something in response. I don't think you can give kids a whole bunch of poem exercises to complete without first surrounding them with word music, imagery, rhythm and language possibilities. I think if a teacher enjoys poetry, they can't help but pass that on to their students (of any age). I like nothing better when I teach poetry writing than sharing my favourites. Here's one by Billy Collins - Introduction to Poetry. And another by Margaret Atwood - You Fit Into Me. Anyone got favourites of their own?


Kristi Holl said...

What you said is so true. I only recall one teacher who liked poetry, and because of her (fourth grade) I learned the daffodil poem by Wordsworth, and some stirring historical stuff about various wars, and a few other things. I wish I had been exposed to a lot more though.

Gemma Wiseman said...

I am an Australian high school teacher, love teaching poetry AND have a blog that is mainly poetry. Trying to find other Australian poet bloggers is nigh on impossible, but I am still searching.

Currently, I am participating in the National Poetry Writing Month, just to try to give current Australian poetry a face.


Sherryl said...

Great to hear from you, Gemma. I knew there were some teachers out there who love poetry, but they're hard to find.
Usually on school visits, if I'm asked to do poetry workshops, the attitude is "she can do them because we have no idea how". I'm happy to do anything on poetry in schools, but am rarely asked - they always want story writing.
I do have a blog that is just poems - it's on Tumblr - and so do some of my fellow poets. You'll find that poets who publish won't put that many poems on their blogs as magazines now consider those as published and won't accept them.
My poetry website is at, if you're interested!