BOOKS I’M USING TO TEACH POETRY

 

I walked away from this title, then came back to it. The other option I was considering was “Poetry Instruction Resources”. That’s pretty accurate, but I remembered that I’m not writing a lesson plan or a doctoral dissertation on curriculum and instruction (yet!?). This one that I stayed with? It’s as accurate as it is casual.

This year, I’m finally working with poetry in a satisfying way. It’s been fantastic so far. My students are writing poetry – and writing about poetry. In the same assignment even! You see, I’m not just teaching poetry, I’m teaching writing. Either one of those covers a lot of intellectual territory; together – wow, it’s a job and a half. There’s so much information that needs to be addressed, it’s hell trying to whittle it down to a couple of weeks work. That’s why the “write poetry/write about poetry” construct is, I believe, a sound one. Students are using both sides of their brain – enjoying and analyzing at the same time.

Teaching Composition: Background Readings (Bedford/St. Martin's Professional Resources)One of the books I’m drawing from a lot is TEACHING COMPOSITION: BACKGROUND READINGS, 3rd. ed. by T. R. Johnson. It’s a compilation of academic essays geared towards teacher development. It was recommended to me by my student teacher last spring. The writing is predictably dry, but the essays “help you acquire or broaden” your teaching mind. I’ve been able to put into immediate use two concepts: (1) James Slevin’s insistence that writing should be evidential (that is, writing should show where information came from, which I take to mean that writing should leave a research trail for a reader to follow), and (2) Guy Allen’s proposal that writing should be habitual in every class/subject to the point where students don’t even question the task anymore – “writing immersion”. I wrote a note to myself in the margin: writing immersion but it sounds like a rare luxury.

Well, I made writing immersion happen this semester! It wasn’t easy, but I made sure students had writing assignments every week. We are halfway through our poetry unit, and I designed it, like I mentioned in ¶1, where students write poetry and write about poetry. I haven’t been using any textbooks. I think I’ve outgrown them. I’ve been using real literature and outside sources.

Scholastic has a fantastic set of poetry books designed with children in mind. It’s called the Poetry for Young People series, and it highlights a broad spectrum of poets. The editions I have are Emily Dickinson, William Carlos Williams, Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman.

— ask if parent online ordering is available for your child’s class

ONCE UPON A POEM is a fantastic book I picked up at a conference. It’s not cheap, but it’s so beautiful and the collection of story poems so fun! It’s got Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, Alfred Noyes’ The Highwayman, Edward Lear’s The Owl and The Pussycat, Longfellow’s Paul Revere’s Ride, and Clement Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas. It’s beautifully illustrated on every page. Even the dedication, written by Roger McGough, is a poem. The boys, when I can get them to read a poem, like Brave Boy Rap, which is Tony Mitton’s rhythmic rendition of the legend of Theseus and the minotaur. It’s a blast!

This beast was called
The Minotaur
It lived beneath
A palace floor
Upon the nearby
Isle of Crete.
It stomped about on hooves, not feet.

Its head and shoulders
Were all bull.
It also had
A tail to pull.
The rest of it
Was muscle guy,
A real meanie –
True! No lie!

— A laugh riot!

 

Ruth Heller’s World of Language series has been one of my steadfast favorites for fifteen years. It’s good reading for my ESL students. Each volume, with its lush baroque illustrationsKites Sail High (Heller, Ruth, Ruth Heller World of Language.), concentrates on one part of speech. The cover is a good indication of how gorgeous the inside is. The entire book is one poem brimming with the words of which they speak.

I think there might be more, but these are the ones I have:

  1. UP, UP AND AWAY: A Book about Adverbs
  2. KITES SAIL HIGH: A Book about Verbs
  3. BEHIND THE MASK: A Book about Prepositions
  4. MANY LUSCIOUS LOLLIPOPS: A Book about Adjectives

clip_image004In the same vein as World of Language is the Words are Categorical series by Brian Cleary. The illustrations are a delight – adorably cartoony. The text rhymes very well, most of it organized into rhyming couplets. This is very good, again, for ESL students. But for my personal taste, I prefer Heller.

These are the ones I have:

1.  A LIME, A MIME, A POOL OF SLIME (nouns)

2.  STOP AND GO, YES AND NO (antonyms)

                                                      3.  STROLL AND WALK, BABBLE AND TALK (synonyms)

                                                      4.  QUIRKY, JERKY, EXTRA PERKY (adjectives)

                                                      5.  HOW MUCH CAN A BARE BEAR BEAR? (homonyms and homophones)

 

clip_image006Something I’ve cared a lot about from the beginning of my career is writing across the curriculum. To that end, I have literature that addresses not just literary perspectives, but other subjects, as well. I got these two great poem books from Scholastic that are about math: THE GRAPES OF MATH (heehee!) and MATH APPEAL, both by Greg Tang. clip_image008

There’s tons of resources for teaching poetry. April is National Poetry Month. (btw, Poets.org has not sent me my free poster and it’s been like a month already. WTF?) Poetry instruction should include some coverage of poetic language, i.e., analogies, similes, and metaphors. If you want to really “AP” your instruction, include some information of how most of our technical jargon for poetry comes from Greek. For example, thanks to www.poetry.org, I discovered that the greek word /poieo/ means “I create”. Perfect, yeah?

 

So, yeah, I’m also using this super fun book called I NEVER METAPHOR I DIDN’T LIKE. It’s a play on Will Rogers’ expression “I never met a man I didn’t like.” I love the “Goldwynist” treatment of the expression. Pure vaudeville.

clip_image010

A caveat for the booklover: utterly useless, bollocking wank quotes on the back of the slipcover. Not that they aren’t clever, but save it for the book. How about a bit of justification for this collection of linguistic pop rocks? Seriously, a thousand jobless writers in New York – and you couldn’t pay one a few bob to write a paragraph? That’s just lazy. But the inside of the book is completely brill. The chapter titles are metaphors or similes or analogies. Magic! For the slow of synapse, the clever title has a subtitle which clarifies…

Chapter 8: Love Is an Exploding Cigar We Willingly Smoke (Love)

Oh, gee, thanks. I never would have figured that out – ever. I almost feel a bit churlish complaining about the off-key capitalization in the chapter titles.

Caveat #2: This is not a textbook. I’m only recommending it, but I’m not letting the students actually read it because it has a lot of adult content (Ch. 10, for example.) I simply picked some literary metaphors from the book to use in my metaphor lesson (Ch. 15).

A very sweet collection of literary-style poems is REFLECTIONS ON A GIFT OF WATERMELON PICKLE…And Other Modern Verse. The poems are by modern authors: Naoshi Koriyama, William Carlos Williams, Donald Justice, Miriam Hershenson. I must admit, I haven’t heard of most of these poets, but their work is simply yet beautifully crafted. The poem of the title is at the back. The poems come in different shapes and trochaic patterns, so it’s a delight to read. I got mine from Scholastic. Amazon has it available through sellers as it seems to be out of print. I’d try Scholastic first.

anita dore poetry0001 One of my absolute favorite poetry books is an anthology titled THE PREMIER BOOK OF MAJOR POETS. Hyperbolic title, I know. But it’s a top book. I’m on my second copy; the first one being in tatters from use. I don’t know what it is about this book, but it FEELS mine! It’s all American and English poets – -but the good ones. It’s arranged by themes, instead of literary periods, which is very useful. That being the case, you will find LeRoi Jones in between Percy Shelley and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The medieval “Cuckoo Song” and its acidic counterpoint “Ancient Music” by Ezra Pound. (Hilarious, btw!) There are three indexes: authors, titles, and first lines. There’s even a nice glossary of poetic terms. You probably could use this as a textbook, if tptb don’t have a problem with the Biblical poems. Cool!

I am glad they included passages from the Bible. It wouldn’t be fair to leave out “Song of Solomon” 2:8-17 with its life-affirming imagery: “The voice of my beloved! Behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, but have not love…). Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (To everything there is a season). Psalm of David 8:1-9 (Oh Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!) Isaiah 2:4 (And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,…)

In a more modern vein, there is “We Shall Overcome”, originally a song of the West Virginia coal miners, then popularized by Joan Baez. There’s some spirituals, which sound quite peppy compared to the Brits’ weltschmertz-y “The World is Too Much With Us” or “When I Have Fears that I May Cease to Be”, or even“The Hollow Men” by Eliot. And – check this out— “Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel! This book is freaking BRILLIANT!

And, if you dare — if you are going to teach full-on poetry — include some of your own creations for study and discussion. Several of my poems were made available for group discussion. I didn’t tell the students I wrote the poems unless they asked, but really, it’s up to you. It was enlightening in a good way. Which brings me to my last point:

If you are going to teach poetry, you should write poetry.

 

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