Posts Tagged ‘National Poetry Month’
If we were to discuss poetry vs prose in terms of contemporary popularity, prose would win. Take a walk through a library or bookstore and you’ll usually find a small section of books of poetry peeking through the sprawling aisles full of books of prose.
But what if we looked at poetry a little bit differently?
Poetry isn’t simply words in a book. Poetry is words spoken aloud, poetry is words spray-painted on a wall, poetry is words in a greeting card, poetry is a posting on Facebook, poetry is words vocalized in a song.
When we perceive poetry in this light, we begin to understand just how popular poetry is.
Reading poetry aloud, or hearing someone speak poetry, assists in understanding the work’s deeper meaning. It allows the reader and listener to hear all the sounds, rhythms, patterns, and intonations in the poem. These things are just as important as the meaning of the poem itself.
Consider how poetry spoken aloud impacted cultures throughout history.
In ancient Rome, poetry was the literary vehicle of choice. Some poets’ works were written and read, but mostly, ancient Roman poetry was spoken aloud in private or public gatherings. This is the way poetry reached the masses. It was how poetry assimilated itself into Roman culture. The likes of Virgil, Horace, and Ovid were the superstars of their day!
Ancient Chinese poets of the Tang (618-907), Song (960-1279) and Han (206 BC – 220 AD) dynasties are still revered as the greatest Chinese poets. During their time, their poems were performed for royalty and beautifully scribed on scrolls that were housed in the emperors’ palaces. How did the common people discover these masterpieces of literature? The spoken word, passed to and through communities, memorized and loved.
During the Renaissance, the plays of William Shakespeare drew enormous crowds at the famed Globe Theatre. His works resonated with the elite and with the common folk. Are his plays considered to be poems? No, they are not—but his dramatic oeuvre is replete with poetic devices. Let us call his plays “poetical.”
Poetical…much like the lyrics of songs we listen to every day.
Listen to a favorite song and consider the figurative and sound poetic devices found in the lyrics. What do you hear? Imagery, alliteration, metaphors, similes, personification, repetition, assonance, consonance, meter, rhyme? How do these devices impact the meaning or message of the song? How do these devices, along with the meaning of the lyrics, make you feel? Are the lyrics written as verse, as lines of poetry? What meaning do the lines hold separately; what meaning do they convey together?
This is a great activity to engage reluctant students of poetry. Poetry on a page offers quite a different experience than poetry spoken aloud, shared, heard. Listening to songs in a classroom setting—or hearing the lyrics aloud in spoken word—can transform students’ perspectives on this time-honored literary form.
Poetry can be wondrous, mysterious, mystical, beautiful, breathtaking, provoking, distressing, funny, and surprising—even startling.
It can also be confusing.
I have a school-aged child. She recently read Emily Dickinson’s “A Bird Came Down the Walk” for homework, and had to answer a few questions. It’s a pretty straightforward poem about a bird out for a meal, happily hopping along the path until he sees the narrator, who offers him a crumb.
“Hey Mom, what does ‘And he unrolled his feathers/And rowed him softer home’ mean?”
It’s an integral part of the poem—the narrator offers the bird a crumb, which startles the bird, and thus the bird flies away.
But she’s in elementary school, and she can read poetry, but she doesn’t always get it.
I started thinking about the inclusion of poetry in school curricula these days, especially in the upper grades. What sort of poetry exposure will she get in high school? As a student and fan of poetry myself, I hope she gets a lot.
But I also hope that she simply doesn’t discover poetry as a timeless literary form and learn the art of absorbing and then dissecting a poem. I hope she meets the poets and understands how their lives and times influenced and inspired their works.
I want her to know that Walt Whitman cared for injured soldiers during the Civil War and wrote beautiful poetry honoring their suffering. I want her to know that he was alive when President Lincoln was assassinated, and that Whitman memorialized him in a poem. I want her to know that he bared his soul in his collection Leaves of Grass, in which he admits his humanity in “Song of Myself”:
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
And he even acknowledges his inevitable passing: I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love.
I want her to dig deep into the blues poetics of Gwendolyn Brooks, who meditated on the struggles and aftermath of the Montgomery bus boycott of the Civil Rights movement, and who called for leaders and strength among the many:
We who are weak and wonderful, wicked,
bewildered, wistful and wild
Are saying direct Good mornings through the fever.
It is the giant-hour.
Nothing, less than gianthood will do.
I also want her to know Brooks’ familial history and the extent of her literary talents: granddaughter of a runaway slave, daughter of a supportive schoolteacher, participant in the Great Migration, regular contributor to the Chicago Defender newspaper’s poetry column at age sixteen, the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize, Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1985.
I want her to know Robert Frost as a brilliant man who struggled and suffered and ultimately captivated the nation with his words and imagery. I want her to read his well-known”The Road Not Taken” and go beyond seeing the poem’s last lines as simply oft-quoted verse and instead integrate them as words to live by:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
April is National Poetry Month. How are you celebrating in your classroom? Reading selected poems? Listening to poetry readings? Writing haiku, free verse, or limericks? Perhaps you will introduce students to the works of notable poets and discuss how their lives impacted their poetry. You can get some help from SIRS Knowledge Source. Visit the April SKS Spotlight of the Month for articles and Web sites on poets and poetry, and a quiz on poetry collectives. SKS is the perfect resource for helping students research and learn about poets from across the centuries and from around the world, and is a great way to bring them into your classroom. Who will you inspire with poetry this April?
Throughout history, poetry has been a force behind social and political transformation.Sometimes its influence is intense and all-encompassing, as in ancient Egypt. The philosopher Plato spoke and wrote at length about poetry, considering it an unacceptable part of the political rhetoric –despite poetry’s incredible popularity. Homer’s epic poems Iliad and Odyssey, for example, were probably two of the most influential writings of the time.
Allen Ginsburg’s poem “Howl” also ignited social and political fury. Ginsberg’s confessional poem, initially read to an audience in San Francisco in 1955, inspired many of the Beat generation and ignited a new form of poetry. Some people considered the poem to be offensive, and in 1957 it became the center of a well-known obscenity trial.
Some poets’ writings make a quiet, steady impact upon the cultural zeitgeist, such as the poems of Maya Angelou. Her decades of poetry have touched upon many aspects of society, from feminism and civil rights to self- and political expression.
Poetry quietly abounds throughout the world. Perhaps you don’t even realize it, but you hear poetry in popular music, in corporate jingles and advertisements, in the speeches of world leaders, and in the inspired words of those who are passionate about a cause. April provides an opportunity to celebrate the poetry we hear every day, and to encounter the words of eminent poets of past and present.
This month’s SKS Spotlight of the Month on National Poetry Month commemorates poetry in all of its forms and profiles poets who impacted the world with their words. Delve into the complex works—and lives—of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, Vietnamese poet Nguyen Chi Thien, Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, and American poets Maya Angelou and Walt Whitman. Consider prominent and influential poetic themes, learn about the longevity and significance of poetry magazines and anthologies, and even meet a new generation of teen poets. Test your knowledge of ancient poetry with this month’s Spotlight Quiz. Above all else, immerse yourself in the beauty and substance of poetry…and consider jotting a few lines of verse yourself!