Wednesday, 8 May 2013

A Classroom Full of Poets

Poetry is one of those things I rarely use in class, but whenever I have, I’ve got a great reaction from the students. For example, my Korean teachers loved making their own stem poems. This involved them completing sentences to describe their classmates which became a poem. However asking someone to just write a poem could be a very intimidating thing to do, so I always try to limit the activity and place parameters on it so they can create without that pressure.

So I’m always on the lookout for a way of introducing poetry into the class in a way that feels natural and doesn’t place too much of a burden on the student. Hence my interest in a recent article on the ever reliable Brainpickings about ‘book spine poetry’. In this, the ‘poet’ takes a handful of books and using their spines, makes a poem. Here are a few of my own works...

The blind assassin
On the road
Dead man’s footsteps
Farewell my lovely

The monk and the philosopher
Dining with terrorists
All men are mortal

The old man and the sea
Catch 22
Big fish
Breakfast of champions

Birds of Costa Rica
Without feathers
You are nothing

I love the idea of asking the students to create their own book spine poems, but there are some issues to resolve first. Firstly they need to get hold of the books. If they don’t have their own, then they can visit the library or a bookshop (with permission). If that’s not possible they could use the bestsellers list on Amazon and if you’re really desperate, you can always bring your own books, although that would obviously limit the range available.

Secondly, you may have to resolve some language issues. When ‘building’ the poems, the temptation is to try and find titles that give you articles, prepositions and other connecting words in order for it to make sense. You might want to let your students cheat and add a few words if they think it is necessary.

A second idea is Newspaper Blackout poems. Simply, the ‘poet’ finds a newspaper or similar text, finds words on the page that they want to use for their poem and blackouts the rest of the page. So all you need to do is take a handful of markers and newspaper articles to the class and off you go! You can even do them on an iPad if you’re more technologically minded (although I used different apps from those mentioned in this article - Safari for the text and Screenchomp for the colouring in.)

Here are a couple of my own newspaper blackout poems:

The original text for poem 1

Alternative health 

Alternative Health

l read a headline
I flinch with shame
So over the top
Diptheria, tetanus, tuberculosis, pertussis, polio,
But we had a fridge full of organic vegatables.
Alternative health left me paranoid.

The original text for Warhol


A vacant, heartless worshipper of money and fame.
Yet a sensitive, shy man
Hidden away
Lost then found
Away from the sleaze and glamour
with his mask off.

Obviously just creating these poems is not enough, so I would print the poems to share with the other students. They could then discuss what they think the poem is about and why the poet chose to put them in that order. The conversation could then switch to them speaking to the poet, telling them what they thought and finding out whether they were right or not.

But of course there are many other ways the students could use these poems, and if you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments below.
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