Poetry in the Classroom
Poetry is still on the curriculum in public schools.
Common Core for English Arts Teachers include a small dedication to poetry. The weight of the lesson being the vocabulary of poetic language. Poems become a mnemonic device to memorize vocabulary.
Things changed since Robin Williams jumped on his desk in “Dead Poets Society” to fight the dusty tomes of rote poetry. In todays classroom the discussion on how the classical canon of literature and poetry fits into a modern curriculum is as old and outdated as children memorizing William Blake’s “The Tyger.”
New types of poetic expression, Slam Poetry for instance, pull in a whole new flock. Generally poets find themselves unable to earn a living in the art which pushes poets into education. So we see more poets in classrooms and more opportunities to involve students in Poetry Slam Competitions or local reading groups.
Is an historical definition of poetry lacking?
Yesterday I read an article explaining to a novice on how to read and enjoy poetry. Bravo. Do we still share poetry on billboards and on the Subway? What motivates us to become poets?
Many of us who write poetry experience one moment when young where a concept, a romantic notion, begins to build. We find ourselves writing and sharing and writing some more even though others seem frightened by poetry or bored or just plain offended. Sometimes it takes a monumental societal change before poetry as a political movement takes hold. Other cultures, experiencing a few upheavals in their time, understand poetry as a valuable form of communication.
This never stuck in America. Most of our advertising is directly influenced by poetic language and thought. Yet, we still tend to fight it as an evil that needs to be vanquished or at least altered to cover its true appearance. Throughout my life poetry has been a quiet art I wrote in backrooms. My parents do not talk about it. My friends care less and find the pursuit a form of vanity.
I am from a generation where art has turned into a commodity and only valued if consumed in quantity.
Two observations, within these last two years, influence this essay.
The first a small poetry group in the city I call home, Reno. The group, who calls themselves “The Spoken Word Collective,” is made up mostly of local educators who love poetry. They gather children from local schools interested in Slam Poetry Competitions on a local and national level. The children are able to travel around the country reading and sharing their poetry and learning from other poets. The group also throws local readings and classes. They invite poets to perform during city events. This organization is where poetry will be saved and brought back to life.
No longer will a student feel that they need to hide their notebooks.
This community has a strong backbone with one desire; to share the art and love of poetry. Therefore the classroom recruits student poets into a community and promises its survival.
Poetry is moving forward at a quick pace but the definition of poetry may need some revision. Our young poets learn how to move their emotions into poetic language and the power behind a well written line but they do so with an air of mystery.
Our community is missing a culture. Culture is formed by being aware of contributions of the past and ensuring that these contributions are brought into the present. Poetry’s rich history needs to be shared. The chasm created in America by so many years of silence needs to be filled in by poets telling stories from Chaucer to Elizabeth Bishop.
The second observation is a moment that I cherish.
I wake up early every morning before my children and move to my writing chair to produce a few stanzas before my world stirs. I talk to my children about poetry, mostly because they listen. Poetry is a part of their lives simply because it is a part of mine.
For example, my son is 11 and in 6th grade. His English teacher informs me my son’s class is learning poetry.
Communication is a fierce battle I face as a parent of an early teen. My son is no longer a talkative curious boy but a quiet private teen. A perfectly normal developmental change but hard to accept. To my surprise his current poetry curriculum opened him up and set in motion a moment of communication rare and beautiful.
My son confronted me one evening. He told me that he had a test on poetic vocabulary. His teacher required a few stanzas using poetic terms discussed in his classroom. Convinced by his sincerity I set aside a few hours to talk about poetry and to help him compose a poem. Our first step was to move to my writing chair.
Two hours of sincere conversation occurred between us on such topics as rhyme, rhythm, and metaphor.
Here is the poem he composed:
Home Sweet Home
The picture on the wall
along the plain tan paint.
The red carpet along the hall,
the smell of carpet cleaner makes me want to faint.
A chair waits to befriend.
I turn on a light its like the sun.
The chair you sat on is my new friend.
The whole experience makes me homespun.
As I sit its soft as snow.
I lean back in your chair with a clinkclinkclink.
What am I going to write, who knows.
I tap my pencil against the chair with a tinktinktink.
Samuel Hunter Hamann 01/24/2019
Thus an essay is created.
If you point out this essay was composed simply to share my child’s poem then you would be correct.
Secondly, I want to talk about how his classroom brought the discussion of poetry home. Whether my son’s poem received a grade or how he performed on his test is irrelevant. What is relevant is the simple act of having poetry on the curriculum.
Therefore my discussion is silenced.
I realize the best journeys are slow and methodical.
When looking at how the art has been treated over the last 100 years I cannot expect the curriculum in schools to return to a more historical approach.
The conversation of poetic language is good enough when mixed with opportunities to join a community of student poets if desired.