Did you know that that the USA’s National Poetry Month, arguably the world’s largest literary celebration, kicked off on April 1st? Luckily it’s not too late to join the schools, publishers, libraries and booksellers that aim to poetry alive, and lively, in today’s culture.
If you’re a teacher who thinks poetry just isn’t your jam, I would say that you just haven’t found the right poets. Or the right poems.
Perhaps you felt intimidated when you learned about poetry in school—all those stanzas and trying to remember the difference between a sonnet and a villanelle; meter and symbolism. Don’t fret. Today we have a wealth of digital resources to help bring poetry to life for young people. You just need a sincere interest in literature and an open mind. I say this as a former fourth grade teacher who was not especially well-versed in poetry in college, but plunged in anyway with haiku, cinquain, and free verse. It was my students’ enthusiasm for poetry, along with their imaginative writing, that won me over.
Where are these resources?
Well, you can sign up with the Academy of American Poets to receive a poem every day. You can also help your teens and tweens participate in the Dear Poet Project, a multimedia experience that draws students into poetry.
If you live in the US, you can participate in a Poem in Your Pocket Day. On this day people carry around a poem with them and then share it in a public space. (If you’re not in the US, why not start your own local tradition?)
Still feeling stuck? Take a glance at “Thirty Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month,” also available through National Poetry Month. Or try this free resource for teachers written by a teacher.
My own interest in poetry was heightened by a recent experience I had in honoring the memory of Seamus Heaney, an Irish poet who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. For many years I had the good fortune of being present when he read his poetry aloud at various events at Harvard (Nic and many other Brits are in total awe of this!). At that time he was working on a Beowulf: A New Translation and a book of poetry called The Spirit Level. These events were always charged with electricity and goodwill. Heaney would often stand on a chair and read a poem, while others “readied the spirits” to be passed around. (Note: This was back before the University tightened up the rules about serving alcohol on campus.)
I was reminded of these special events last weekend when I attended a ceremony in Heaney’s honor. The rooms he stayed in, when he was a visiting professor, at Harvard are now named after him; they will be available to students as a quiet place to think and write. For the Heaney fans among you, here is a write-up of the event along with photos of this rooms, which are decorated with framed photographs and a few of his most popular poems.
I’d like to leave you with one of my favorite snatches of poetry from Heaney’s poem, “Digging”, an appreciation of his father and the rhythms he created when digging potatoes: “…Stooping in rhythm through the potato drills/Where he was digging.”
The author has “no spade” for following in his father’s footsteps. He is a writer.
“Beneath my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.“
What poems will you share with your students? How will you spark their creativity? How will you show them how to “dig” with their pens (or keyboards)? We would love to hear from you!
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