Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Introducing Poetry in the Classroom

Writing in the New York Times Sunday Review, William Logan, poses a rhetorical question: Poetry: Who Needs It?
The way we live now is not poetic. We live prose, we breathe prose, and we drink, alas, prose. There is prose that does us no great harm, and that may even, in small doses, prove medicinal, the way snake oil cured everything by curing nothing. But to live continually in the natter of ill-written and ill-spoken prose is to become deaf to what language can do.
Indeed. We lovers of poetry have been living behind enemy lines for a while now. With the Common Core Standard’s heavy emphasis on non-fiction is there any place left for poetry in the classroom? Was there ever?

Where did you read your first poem? Was it in a classroom full of kids rolling their eyes and yawning? Or was it and act of rebellion? Did you read your first poems sneakily on the bus home, a book balanced on your knees?

If you’re like me, you might’ve discovered poetry between the subjects of science and math, huddled over the frayed pages full of words by Maya Angelou, dreaming of caged birds singing for their freedom. Poetry was a door that I didn’t even open, but rather fell through – and fell hard.

 I only had one unit of poetry taught in my time from kindergarten to eighth grade – the most formative years of not only education, but English education. My fifth grade teacher gave us the task of writing almost every form of poetry, from rhyming couplets to the haiku. Months later we sat in the auditorium and sipped hot chocolate, snapping our fingers as our classmates read their own poems aloud. Nobody really cared about poetry then. It was only an assignment, with a payoff in the form of liquid chocolate in a cup.

Years later, I know it meant something. Poetry is essential to all matters related to the viability of life and the human spirit; it is the cornerstone of every song professed, the iambic heartbeat and rhythm of all movement, the soul of literature. And maybe twelve-year-old me didn’t know this then, but poetry put my stars into orbit, and gave me something to wish on when I dreamt of my own future as a writer. Poetry in the classroom is important, plain and simple. But what is even more important is the introduction of poetry to children, and how it’s done. With passion and the inspiration for genuine interest, anyone can come to enjoy Byron, Shelley, or Keats. Poetry strikes the innermost stirrings of pure human nature and love.

And no, it may not be as exciting as television or video games, but poetry transcends material things and becomes universal. Not everyone will love poetry, or hunger for the next rhyme or Neruda sonnet, but those that do will discover a new world of writing and reading. Now think again about when you first discovered poetry. Was it exciting? Did it bore you? Would you rather have been learning about fossils, or even algebra? There are endless possibilities, and for every kid that closes a book, somewhere another is just beginning to turn the pages.

At Prestwick House, we hope to keep those pages turning. Below are some great collections of poetry available from us: Maya Angelou Shel Silverstein Robert Frost Romantics Collection Poets of the 20th Century Editor's Note: This post was written by Lindsay Saienni, a Prestwick House Summer Intern.

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