As important as it is to become close readers of poems, we do not want students to end up overanalyzing a poem so that it becomes merely the sum of its parts (syllable count + topic development + line number + imagery = haiku). We want them to enjoy poetry, to be amazed at the imaginative way a poet writes about common everyday objects or expresses painful or joyous memories in a way that captures the emotion of the moment. Well-respected author and poet Georgia Heard states, “From poetry we learn the language of the heart and soul. No one is going to write a resume with the language of poetry, but there are many enjoyable life experiences that reach beyond our career paths and help us become more well-rounded, compassionate, and empathetic human beings.” This lesson utilizes some of Heard’s suggestions for helping young writers reach into themselves and bring out the thoughtful, creative genius that resides within.
First off, I let students know that the purpose of the lesson is to examine that work of poets with the idea that we ourselves will soon be writing poetry. This change in mindset from being an analyst of poetry to a writer of poetry may seem subtle but it is not. You will notice a shift in the students’ questions and comments from previous lessons. We start by examining the Poetry Wheel of Craft and each of its parts. They are familiar with most of it because of the work we have done in class and because of their previous experience with poetry. The one section that captures their attention is the element of surprise. We use the poem “Seeing the World” by Steven Herrick as a way to see how this and the other aspects of the wheel can be applied to a poem. They have some quiet time to read and mark up the poem before we discuss it. What stands out most is the idea that observing the world the around them becomes more absorbing than playing games and watching television. We agree that this is the poem’s element of surprise along with the comradeship and closeness that develops among the family members in this poem.
Of course you can also examine other aspects of this poem by asking some or all of the following questions:
For further practice, we examine a series of poems one at a time. Most of the focus is the element of surprise in each poem because I want the students to notice how the author’s use language to express thoughts and ideas or images in creative and unexpected ways. For example, the speaker in Valerie Worth’s “Go Wind” encourages the wind, but becomes concerned about getting blown away herself. Also, the students love the way William Carlos Williams brings the constellations to life in “Peace on Earth.” Additional clues on what the students notice appears here:
Before class ends, I have two more tasks. One is to get some insight into what students have gleaned from this lesson by having them fill out the Nature/Surprise reflection. The other is to assign the homework, which is quite different than usual.
In order to prepare for the next day’s writing activity, each student is to go on a nature walk near home and find something that grabs their interest or that they find inspiring to become the topic of a poem. It should be a specific item (a single plant; a tree; a stone) rather than a broad area (the woods; a river). The item should not be removed from the area. Students can jot down observations and take a photograph instead. You may choose to extend the time of this lesson and take a nature walk on the school’s grounds, if time allows. As an alternative, students may choose an item in their home as long as it is something that occurs naturally in the environment (shells collected during a favorite vacation; a plant received as a gift or carefully cared for by the family). You may choose to extend the time allotted for this lesson and take a nature walk on the school’s grounds. I have done this in the past and it is a really great experience. You can even do the writing outside!