To love the dreaded and ignored literary form

dead-poets-society-caveThis block I’m in a contemporary poetry class. It’s been 6 months since I’ve been in an English Class and I haven’t enjoyed the content of a class since November. That’s not to say I’ve been miserable in my courses but with a block off due to illness, statistics, and a  biology class for nonmajors–it’s been an apathetic and surprisingly easy last couple months. 

This only adds to how enamored I am with this course. With the exception of a few articles, none of my work feels like work. I’ve spent most days this week reading poetry round-robin style with 2 of my good friends (who are also in the class)–we are basically the dead poets society and I love it. I talk poetry before, during, and after class; but I am far from expert. I connect with poetry on an emotional level that I can rarely articulate. It takes me even longer to figure out why the poem makes me feel that way: what is it doing to cause this reaction?

this was my 6th year performing at LTAB

this was my 6th year performing at LTAB

I feel so strongly about it, it’s hard for me to imagine how people can not be in love with poetry. But then I remember that most of the places that cultivated my love for poetry were outside of the classroom. It was my slam poetry team, it was Louder Than A Bomb (the world’s largest youth poetry slam), it was YCA, it was youtube, it was wherever I could escape the high school cannon and find something I  could actually relate to. So how can we make the classroom a catalyst for this love?

Besides the flaws of how typical hs poetry curriculum is taught, there’s also the flaw of when it’s taught. Poetry is a brushed over topic. The novelty of your English class come April.

I’ve been slowly working my way through Linda Christensen’s Teaching for Joy and Justice. In this book, she talks about incorporating poetry into all her English lessons and that’s something I’d like to do as well. We tend to treat poetry as completely separate from everything else–it’s own English entity. And while I believe a poem is certainly different from a novel, I think an understanding of one can inform the other. Structure, figurative language, distrustful speakers/narrators, symbolism: all of these cut across literary branches and genres. Most importantly, “poetry helps build community and teach literary analysis”–the epitome of what should be happening in an English classroom (15, Christensen).

How can educators help remove the poetry stigma? How can we teach poetry in a way that’s engaging while still aligning with the common core? What are some (in)effective techniques?

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