UTNE Reader - August 1998

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UTNE Reader #2 How Poems Happen - Beth's page

Barbara Kingsolver describes the poem writing process so accurately. If you sit down with the intention of writing a poem, a stiff, rhyming imitation of what you really feel finds itself on the page. Barbara Kingsolver compares poems to dust bunnies. She claims you usually will feel the inspiration to write a poem in the middle of chopping onions, as tears flow down your face, while listening to the news about homeless people, with your children battling on the living room floor. According to Barbara Kingsolver, the idea hits you and then rolls under the bed with the dust bunnies to lie there forgotten and lost for all time. She states that most great poets are bound by ordinary life like you and me. She concludes the article with a poem she wrote in response to a news report concerning the Arizonas state board decision about removing poetry as a curriculum requirement. Barbara Kingsolver did not let this poem play with the dust bunnies, instead she said " I threw down my dish towel, swept the baby off her podium and stalked off to find a pencil.". This inspirational poem can be found on page 37 of the August 1998 UTNE Reader. I can relate to many issues that Barbara Kingsolver conveys in this article. The first point was that you do not have to be famous to be a poet. It comforts me that Barbara Kingsolver has three children, a dog and somehow, simultaneously, manages to change diapers and write novels and poems. Secondly, she expressed that poems are everywhere but easy to miss. Last year, I experienced this once with my 7th grade English class. I had assigned group work where the students bounced ideas off each other. I felt incredible pride in my students because they spent the time productively and their voices and ideas sounded like music to my ears. I stopped grading papers, pulled out a scratch piece of paper and started swiftly writing the thoughts that came to mind. When I stopped writing, I read these thoughts back to myself, and they flowed beautifully , expressing that moment which had not passed me by. I still keep that poem in my desk drawer. Finally, Barbara Kingsolver stresses the importance of poetry as a requirement in schools. I have taught poetry for three years, and I am always amazed who my great poets turn out to be. Often times they are the students that have difficulty expressing their feelings and point of view in the classroom. I have learned important life details about my students that I could never have found in a students cumulative folder. Like Barbara Kingsolver, I believe that poetry plays an important role in the writing curriculum. I have difficulty motivating my students to write a quality essay but very few hesitate to write a poem. A poem is within their grasp; it is something they can complete and then revise. They can really analyze the content and embellish the poem with modifiers and numerous poetry techniques. My 14 year old daughter was cleaning her closet and she came across a notebook of poems she had created back in third or fourth grade but never shared. With a grin on her face, she read them to me recently. All of the poems dealt with a personal topic in her life, such as scraped knees, bath time, or birthdays. Most of them ended with love for this day or that object. The ends of each line rhymed with the next, but what amazed me was her use of repetition and comparisons like similes and metaphors. No one had taught her the importance of these techniques, yet in the process of creating she used them to express her feelings and thoughts. I have discussed this article with my colleagues and friends. Their responses vary and it is hard to tell where they stand on the importance of poetry in a writing curriculum. There are so many curriculum issues that educators face that this one does not seem to stand out. My opinion is so strong that I offer little room to debate the importance of poetry in a classroom. Poetry is everywhere and can be taught across the curriculum. It can be used as a mnemonic device to teach the classification of kingdoms in science. Students can create a poem about a historic figure to better help them memorize important facts on a social studies test. Students hear all types of poetry techniques in the CDs and tapes they play. We even use rhyme to teach children how to tighten and loosen objects: righty tighty, lefty loosey. I guess that school boards or superintendents can choose to pull poetry from the writing curriculum, but poetry will find its way into the classroom everyday.

-- Anonymous, January 25, 1999


Thank you for sharing that intimate moment in your classroom... It is amazing how such a tiny part of a day in the life of children can spark such emotion. I'm impressed that you went with the moment and took the time to freely create and express yourself! It is often so difficult to step back and appreciate the moment.

I wondered if you shared your poetry with your students or your daughter? They might really enjoy and appreciate your personal reflections and emotions.

Have a great day! Kim

-- Anonymous, January 29, 1999

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