Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

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Do your students write poetry in, and out of, class?

posted: 7.24.14 by Andrea Lunsford

As I’ve said before, my sister teaches high school in Florida—history and psychology, with a lot of writing in all her classes (she says she’s “notorious” not just for assigning writing but for teaching it and taking it very, very seriously).  I love hearing about the work she is doing and about her students, and recently she wrote to share a poem one of her seniors had written, not for class but just on her own. [read more]

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Using Pop Culture to Hook Students on Poetry

posted: 3.15.11 by Traci Gardner

3418717701_d2276363e8_mNational Poetry Month is still a few weeks off, but I feel like talking poetry. Recently, Holly Pappas asked about strategies for discussing poetry with general education students. The answer I’ve stumbled upon is to use pop culture to hook students on reading and discussing poetry.

Like many teachers, I’ve struggled when helping students to analyze poetry. I think the problem is fear. I’m afraid I won’t be able to convince them of the beauty and delight a poem can hold, and they’re terrified they will never be able to find the secrets hidden in those poems.

I address those fears directly by having us read and discuss Billy Collins’s “Introduction to Poetry” together. The juxtaposition of the speaker’s playful intentions and the students’ torturous interrogation perfectly mirrors our situation. With a little luck, students see themselves (and me) in the poem, and we’re off to a great start.

The pop culture connections come next. I share a favorite Dr. Seuss book with the class, asking them whether the book qualifies as poetry. A rousing discussion follows, touching on nursery rhymes, rhyming jingles, and song lyrics. We return to the Collins poem. None of them feels like beating a confession out of Dr. Seuss or the latest pop diva, and they can make observations about themes, images, and rhythm and rhyme easily in this context. [read more]

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Gen Ed Poetry: Finding a Real Toad or Two

posted: 3.4.11 by archived

It’s poetry time in my Writing about Literature class, so I’ve been considering yet again how to approach talking about something  a majority of my students dread. I think back to my own experiences with poetry in college. Beyond the introductory Lit Crit course I took as an English major (I remember explicating William Carlos Williams’s “Spring and All”), I took two Form and Theory of Poetry classes, one as an undergraduate and the other in graduate school. In the first, the reading list was eight or ten books of poetry, many several hundred pages long: Rimbaud, Pound, Eliot, Hart Crane, Wallace Stevens. Despite my love of reading and my overall diligence as a student, I found my eyes bouncing over the words without much comprehension and I gave up partway through each book; instead I annotated a few poems while dutifully following the teacher’s comments.

In the second course, with a far different approach, we studied prosody and wrote our own samples of heroic couplets and blank verse, ballads, terza rima, villanelles. It took me forty exhilarating hours to finish my first sonnet. Neither of these courses, however, seem useful models for my method and goals in asking composition students to read, think about, and write about poetry. [read more]

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Holly Pappas, Literature
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Beautiful Imagination: Reading and Writing Alongside Cornelius Eady

posted: 9.27.10 by archived

For the students in my first-year writing course, contemporary poetry was a revelation. After all, Cornelius Eady’s “Brutal Imagination” tells the story of an event that most students are too young to remember, yet it happened in their lifetimes. They recognize Eady, the way he draws on pop culture, on Buckwheat from “The Little Rascals” and Uncle Ben. The way he uses slang, cusses. If poetry has, for my students at least, come to mean “timeless,” that is, uprooted from history (and from their lives), inhabiting the rarefied air of universal human values, what then to make of poems like Eady’s?

Students weren’t certain—these are poems not about “diversity” or some other school-worn phrase, but about blackness, whiteness, motherhood, murder, lying. But students were certainly curious. This isn’t to say they found reading Eady’s poems easy, or that they immediately “got them.” They didn’t. But the difficulty of poetry receded as students strove to understand the imaginary black man, Susan Smith, in Eady’s version of the story. Students sensed he had something to say. [read more]

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Poet of the Month: William Wordsworth

posted: 4.12.10 by archived

For Poetry Month, we chose an old favorite for poet of the month: William Wordsworth.

Wordsworth (April 7, 1770 –April 23, 1850) is one of the most important English Romantic poets. Critics consider Lyrical Ballads (1798), a collection by Wordsworth and fellow poet Samuel Coleridge, to be the publication that began the Romantic era in poetry.

Wordsworth and his Romantic contemporaries valued emotional experience over logic and reason, breaking with the values of the English Enlightenment. Poems like “The Daffodils” and “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” have become classics because of their eloquent expression of the author’s personal experiences, close observation of nature, and evocative emotional content.

Wordsworth defined good poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” and though these spontaneous feelings inspired many of his works, the quality of his poems shows that they were written with care. He began writing an epic poem about his life at age 28, and worked on it for the rest of his life. It was published as The Prelude after his death in 1850, and was dedicated to his contemporary and collaborator, Samuel Coleridge.

In the Classroom:

1. Have students research the fruitful but complicated relationship between Wordsworth and Coleridge and use it to fuel a discussion of literary friendship.  What can they make of the differences between “Tintern Abbey” and “Kubla Khan,” for example?

2. Some of Wordsworth’s language won’t be accessible to some students, but in his day Wordsworth strove for clear, everyday speech.  Use a few lines from his “Preface to “Lyrical Ballads” to talk about how language changes.  Ask students to think of examples of common language today that might sound “stuffy” in 100 years.

3. Have students use Poetry Foundation’s great collection of flower poems to find a poem to compare with “Daffodils.” Have students compare their descriptions of nature, the poets’ responses to nature, and the emotional content (or lack thereof) of the poems.


blog-photo Cecilia Seiter is an associate editor at Bedford/St. Martin’s.

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Free Poetry Culture: LibriVox Edition

posted: 3.29.10 by archived

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about Yale Open Courses, and this week I’d like to highlight another great free audio resource online—LibriVox.

A sort of audio version of Project Gutenberg, LibriVox aims to put online audio recordings of all public domain books. This includes the novels of Dickens, Austen, Eliot, most of Conrad, and the bulk of Joyce.  (Membership in the canon is not a prerequisite, however; the database also includes selections such as “Selections From General Instructions For The Guidance Of Post Office Inspectors In The Dominion Of Canada”.)

There’s a lot of great  poetry in the public domain (by Yeats, Shelley, Keats, Tennyson, Hopkins, and many others), making Librivox a good resource for recordings of teachable poems. Additionally, LibriVox provides 84 mixed collections of short poetry,  perfect for loading on your iPod if you like to prep for class while jogging or commuting.

Volunteers, rather than actors, read the selections included in the LibriVox database, but the quality is generally high. (Even the best recordings of John Donne’s poetry couldn’t match the Richard Burton versions, though.)

If you find yourself intrigued by the project, you may want to volunteer yourself–or your students. (Instructions are found here.) It’s easy to get involved. Readers of this blog may be especially interested in recording a poem for the collections of short poetry.

In the Classroom

  • Start class by playing a recording of a poem before students read the poem.
  • Craft a short unit on the principles of reading poetry aloud.  Discuss poetry’s beginning in oral traditions. (LibriVox, of course, has recordings of the great, originally oral epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey.) Split students into groups, and have them listen to several recordings and then make a list of what helps and/or hinders their ability to understand and enjoy the poem when they listen rather than read it.
  • Once students understand what makes for a good reading, have them choose a poem they’re drawn to and add it to the LibriVox canon.  They could even memorize it, participating in the oral tradition.  (See our post on the virtues of memorization.)

Related Posts

Poetry Speaks!

Memorization and Its Discontents

In Defense of Recitation


Andrew Flynn is an editorial assistant at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He graduated from Columbia in 2008, with a BA in history and philosophy. Before working at Bedford he interned at the Paris Review.

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Poetry, Proliferating

posted: 3.8.10 by archived

Last month, David Alpaugh wrote an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education called “The New Math of Poetry.” In it he describes the explosion of poetry publishing, particularly online, and what it means for poetic culture. He bemoans the potential loss of a brilliant poet or two in all the poetic static.

Whether there are actually as many published poets as Alpaugh claims and whether we as a culture lose something when a brilliant poet goes unrecognized is up for debate (as the article’s comments section shows). But there’s no denying that poetry, like journalism, prose fiction, music, visual art, and most other media is easier to publish than ever. And poets of all ages and skill levels are rising to the challenge. Whether you like this development or not, it does make it harder to find new, good poetry outside of a few traditional venues like Poetry or The New Yorker.

With that in mind, we’re going to start a new feature here at Teaching Poetry where we round up some of the best poetry journals, magazines, and blogs out there. We’ll have a theme for each round-up, and we’ll try to find the best online examples of different types of poetry journals.

Hopefully this will help you navigate online poetry, and maybe find a new favorite poet. (As of right now, we have no affiliation with any of the blogs we’re going to mention. If we ever do mention an affiliated blog, we’ll disclose it.)

For our inaugural round-up we offer you one site that has the content and power of a thousand: Web del Sol. David Alpaugh mentions WDS at the beginning of his Chronicle article, and for good reason—the home page is teeming with literary content. Founded in 1994 by Michael Neff, and only the second organization to put a poetry journal online, WDS now calls itself the literary locus of the Web. It’s a collaborative cultural effort that includes several journals, reviews, and zines, as well as links to hundreds of other literary sites.

Feeling overwhelmed by the WDS home page? Click on eSCENE to narrow down your options a bit. eSCENE is a digest of highlights from fiction, poetry, and new media journals. They publish the editor’s selections at least six times a year—which should be enough to keep you  reading all year round.

Of course, please let us know of your current favorite poetry sources in the comments below—we’ll be sure to mention you if your recommendation winds up in a post.

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Poet of the Month: Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

posted: 2.10.10 by archived

Audre Lorde, born on February 18th, 1934, was just as admirable for her activism as for her poetry. Indeed for Lorde the two were inextricably connected.

A native New Yorker born to Grenadian parents, Lorde attended high school and college in Manhattan. As a child she dropped the “y” from her given first name, “Audrey”, because she liked the symmetry between the “e” endings of her first and last names. What poet wouldn’t do the same?

Starting in the 1960’s, Lorde became a civil rights activist. However, as a black lesbian woman, she struggled with racism in the feminist community, sexism in the black community, and heterosexism and homophobia everywhere. Her essays urge her readers to stop fearing the differences between individuals—the fear leads to exclusion, and one group almost inevitably declares itself superior to the other.

In the late 1970s, Lorde was diagnosed with breast cancer. In 1980 she published The Cancer Journals, a nonfiction memoir of her cancer experience. She also co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press in the same year. In 1991, she was named poet laureate of New York state. She continued to write poetry and essays until her death from cancer in 1992.

You can read Lorde’s essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” in Sister Outsider on Google Books.

Listen to a 1977 clip of her reading “A Song for Many Movements” at

The Poetry Foundation has a biography and full text of eleven of Lorde’s poems.

Lorde’s poems and life can show students that not all poets are on a Search for Truth, or trying to Create Beauty, or Express their Innermost Feelings. Sometimes these pursuits are abstract to students: what do they have to do with the real world? Why should anyone study them?

Audre Lorde used her search for truth, and the beauty of language, and her personal experience, to tell people about injustice and try to change American society.

As she said to poet Mari Evans in “Conversations with Audre Lorde,”

“So the question of social protest and art is inseparable for me. I can’t say it is an either/or position…I loved poetry and I loved words. But what was beautiful had to serve the purpose of changing my life, or I would have died. If I cannot air this pain and alter it, I will surely die of it. That’s the beginning of social protest.”

Happy Birthday, Audre Lorde!

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Celebrating Poetry in Black History Month

posted: 2.1.10 by archived

Terrence Hayes reads at Cornell University, April 15, 2009

With the arrival of February comes the celebration of Black History month in the United States and—on this blog at least—a recognition of the pioneering work of  writers and artists of African descent in this country.

There are a lot of great Web resources to help you appreciate these innovators and to structure activities for your students.

The Academy of American of American Poets has compiled a wealth of material for Black History Month and invites readers to “[c]elebrate and explore the rich tradition of African American poetry through essays on literary milestones, intersections of music, poetry, and art, and profiles and poems of historical and contemporary poets such as Harryette Mullen who continue to pioneer new ground while keeping an eye on the past.”

Highlights include classic recordings, such as Langston Hughes reading “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and Gwendolyn Brooks reading “We Real Cool,” along with overviews of poetic movements like Slam and Negritude, essays, videos, and biographies.

Langston Hughes reads, “I, Too.”

The Library of Congress has provided an equally impressive collection, though its focus is broader, covering the whole spectrum of politics and culture. Of special interest to readers of this blog will be videos of poet Sheila Moses at the 2006 National Book Festival, David Kresh discussing the poetry of Langston Hughes, and poet E. E. Miller giving an interview.

The Smithsonian’s Web site for Black History month features a host of resources for educators including a Harlem Renaissance reading list.

And, on that topic, the History Channel offers a brief video overview of the Harlem Renaissance—the surge of creative activity in Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood in the 1920s and 1930s that involved poets such as Claude McKay and Langston Hughes.

The Biography Channel’s Web site features a lengthier, written introduction to the Harlem Renaissance, with links to biographies to major writers, artists, and intellectuals associated with the movement—including, of course, poets.

About your classroom:

How will you celebrate Black History Month in your poetry classroom this February? How do you celebrate all year round?

Send in your exercises and ideas and we will feature them here on Teaching Poetry.


Andrew Flynn is an editorial assistant at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He graduated from Columbia in 2008, with a BA in history and philosophy. Before coming to Bedford he interned at the Paris Review.

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P. K. Page: 1916-2010

posted: 1.25.10 by archived

In 2005, my high school in Canada invited me to give a poetry workshop and reading. After the workshop, the instructor who’d invited me—one talented Mr. Terence Young—took me along on a social call to none other than literary giant P. K. Page. It was an unexpected pleasure during my visit to Victoria.

Then approaching 90, P. K. showed no signs of slowing down. She mixed us stiff cocktails and talked a blue streak. She drank more than I did. When I expressed an interest in Brazil, she talked about her two years there in the 1950s and grilled me on my Portuguese. She was sharp and amusing and easy to like. But I, for one, was also a little afraid. She was full of fire.

On January 14, Canadian poet, essayist, and visual artist P. K. Page passed away at 93.

Patricia Kathleen Page was born in England in 1916 and moved with her family to Alberta, Canada, when she was quite young. Her parents were both creative, artistic people, and she grew up surrounded by the arts. She was a prolific writer, publishing two new books just two months before her death.

As a young woman living in Montreal, she belonged to a group of poets who founded the magazine Preview (1942-45), associated with then-prominent Canadian poets F. R. Scott and A. M. Klein. While not a card-carrying member, she sympathized with Quebecois Communists who resisted the Anglo-Canadian establishment in Montreal, a French city. Her work was interested in language play as well as concepts from psychoanalysis.

Her first book As ten as twenty was published in 1946 and in 1954 her collection The Metal and the Flower won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, Canada’s highest literary prize. She had a strong sense of social justice and believed in practicing literary form. As she said,“I make myself sit down and write sonnets and villanelles and sestinas because you need bones. If you don’t know all that, you have a very shaky scaffolding for your art.”

Working as a scriptwriter for the National Film Board of Canada, she met her husband Arthur Irwin, who at the time also worked in film. Thanks to his later diplomatic career, she lived for several years in Australia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Brazil.

While living in Brazil she painted often, and kept track of her daily life in a diary later published as Brazilian Journal. (I took her journal on my second trip to Brazil. It was an insightful and often hilarious companion, navigating the absurdity of a northerner in a tropical country without enough of the local language.)

In this 1983 CBC interview, she speaks about her experiences in Brazil, and reads “Traveler’s Poem.”

The CBC Web site published a poignant remembrance of Page’s life written by her friend and fellow writer Rosemary Sullivan. The page includes a video of Page reading her most popular poem, “Planet Earth,” which the United Nations selected in 2001 to be read simultaneously in several locations around the world to celebrate the International Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations.

Upon her death, the Premier of Canada, Gordon Campbell,  issued this statement: “As an author, poet, teacher, scriptwriter and painter, P. K. Page was an extraordinary and varied force in promoting and developing Canadian culture. Her efforts helped to set the stage for decades of cultural growth in our nation.  Her long and illustrious career saw her achieve great heights including eight honourary doctorates as well as being named to both the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia.”

Poet and friend Lorna Crozier said in a 2004 profile in Victoria’s local newspaper, the Times-Colonist, “Her engagement with the world is obsessive, passionate and totally clear.”

Some of  P.K. Page’s poems are available online:

“Deaf-Mute in the Pear Tree”

“Cullen in the Afterlife”

“After Rain” (inspired by Rilke‘s “Autumn Day“)

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