Ars Poetica and Illuminated Texts: Responding to Poetry through Artistic Represenation

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SWBAT illuminate their poems using high tech and/or low tech visual analysis.

Big Idea

Poetry is about art. "A poem should not mean but be." ("Ars Poetica" by Archibald MacLeish)

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Time Frame and Context

This is Lesson 7 in the Poetry Unit covering British poetry from the Romantic, Victorian, and Modern eras. Students have worked their way through several close reading tasks and are now ready for the culminating creative task, which is Illuminating their poems. 

In this lesson, students 

  • Listen to and discuss Natalie Merchant's "Maggie, Millie, Molly, and May."
  • View an illuminated project for "Dulce Et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen.
  • Receive instructions and options for creating their illuminated poetry projects. 

This lesson spans one day in the classroom learning about the project and options for creating illuminated poems. Then students spend two days in the lab completing their projects. 

Natalie Merchant Paves the Way: Introducing Students to Ways of Illuminating

20 minutes

To set the tone for the Illuminated text assignment, I introduce students to Natalie Merchant's song "Maggie, Millie, Mollie, and May," which is based on a poem by e. e. cummings. It's online at the Academy of American Poets website. 

I ask a student to read the poem, as is typical of readings of e. e. cummings, the student reads the poem quite rapidly. Next, I play Natalie Merchant's song, which is quite slow. (Note: The video below is not the one I originally included in this lesson. Today, 4-9-15, I discovered the original video had been deleted, so I replaced it with the one below.)

Then we discuss the effect of Merchant's song. I ask students:

  • What is the poem about? 
  • Is this an event in the past, the present, or the future? 
  • For someone to find a starfish on the beach, what condition does the starfish have to be in? 
  • What does the stone represent (symbolize)?
  • What's special about the beach and the ocean in the poem?

Ultimately, students decided that the poem is about memories from childhood and how going back to the beach can help us regain those moments from childhood. I explained to students that e. e. cummings is a Modern American writer.

Next, I told students that they would be creating an illuminated text of their poem and showed them a Prezi for "Dulce Et Decorum Est" that my student intern created as an example of an illuminated text. The screencast Dulce Et Decorum Est Prezi.mp4 shows how to present the Prezi to students because Prezi requires us to hit "Present" and "Allow" full screen and either advance the frames manually or set the timer in the bottom right corner. Moreover, the screencast preserves the Prezi. 

The Ways of Monks Meet Modern Technology: Creating Illuminated Texts

30 minutes

The The Art of Poetry reminds students of the tasks they have already completed and gives them ideas for platforms they can use for their projects. I tell students that because technology changes so often, they need to be open minded and think about all the possible options at their disposal. 

When I first taught students how to create illuminated poems, I tell the class, I used Photo Story, which is now a dead platform. I even have a lesson plan called "Picturing Shakespeare" at the Folger Shakespeare Library. After Microsoft abandoned Photo Story, I tell students I started using Windows Movie Maker Live, which is a free download. 

The important thing for students to remember is that their projects need to communicate meaning to their classmates on the presentation day. They also need to show their understanding of the poem in their projects. To that end, it's important not to crowd text onto the images. Doing so does not allow students enough time to read and digest the poem. This is why I have students listen to the Natalie Merchant song. They need to eschew their impulse to rush. 

Next, I spend time explaining each platform to students and giving them a brief overview of how they work. However, I also tell students that it's important that they play around w/ a site and think about allowing themselves a bit of a learning curve. 

Finally, I give students a quick tutorial on searching images using Google images.Google Images.mp4 replicates this quick lesson. I want them to use Creative Commons licensed images. Wiki images and those on the Creative Commons website are also options for students.