Posts Tagged ‘poems’
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.
On this day in 1845, Edgar Allan Poe’s narrative poem, “The Raven,” was published in the New York Evening Mirror. Although the poem earned him a mere nine dollars upon its publication, it immediately captured readers’ imaginations and made Poe a household name. More than a century and a half later, our continued fascination with Poe and his mythical bird are evident throughout popular culture. What other poem can be said to have inspired an NFL football team (the Baltimore Ravens), a rock album (Lou Reed’s “The Raven”), a Hollywood film (“The Raven,” starring John Cusack as Poe) and an episode of “The Simpsons” (“Treehouse of Horror”)? Even those who’ve never read the poem are likely to recognize its most famous line: Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”
Poe considered the death of a beautiful woman the “most poetical topic in the world,” and he believed that bereaved lovers made great narrators. Thus “The Raven” follows an unnamed narrator who is beset with grief over the death of his beloved Lenore. Late one dreary December night while reading a book in an effort to distract himself from his sorrow, the narrator is visited by a mysterious guest—the raven, who answers the narrator’s every inquiry with a single, maddening word: Nevermore. The poem’s supernatural atmosphere and gothic setting give “The Raven” its spooky appeal. But the narrator’s mental anguish gives the poem its emotional power. By the end of the poem, the bereaved narrator, so distraught at the prospect of never seeing his love again, has lost his sanity. If you’ve never gotten around to reading this most famous of American poems, give it a shot! Find out why “The Raven” continues to haunt and enthrall readers. After you’ve read it, visit the Literary Corner in SIRS Renaissance to learn more about the poem and its legendary author.
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!