Day 139: Poetry is an Art

All of fourth quarter will be spent on poetry, whether lyric or dramatic, culminating in our reading of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet at the end of April and throughout May. Today began our first day of poetry.

As a 9th grader, I didn’t get poetry. I only really liked reading starting when I was about 16. But at 14, I was utterly mystified when a test question about The Outsiders asked me the relationship between Ponyboy and Robert Frost’s poem. The poem was reprinted on the test:

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

– Robert Frost (1923)

I had no idea. Eventually, I asked my friend, who had also taken the test. She explained to me that it was about how beautiful things don’t last long–things like youth and love. How was I supposed to get that?

To help students connect a little more with poetry, we spent the class period figuring out how each arts pathway was similar to poetry in both its goals and its techniques.

Students, as you read different poems throughout the next few weeks, remember the similarities between poetry and the other art forms you study at DSA. Remember that a poet is an artist just like you; a poet has goals and ideas he’s trying to communicate and uses poetic techniques to get those ideas across.

1. Freewrite. Write across the top of a piece of paper “Poetry Journals.” Then, underneath, answer one or all of the following questions in a creative way:

Why do you do art? What is the hardest part of making art? What are the rewards?

2. Concentration Groups Fill out Transparencies. Students broke into groups according to their concentration. Each group answered some questions on a transparency about their art:

What are your aims or goals when creating or performing your art? Include goals for yourself and goals for your audience.

What are the specific techniques, rules, forms, or materials you use to accomplish these goals?

Imagine you’re talking to someone who “just doesn’t get” your art form. What are the three most important things you could tell that person to help him appreciate your art?

Students shared the one most important answer for each question briefly.

3. Connections between the arts. In a group discussion, students pointed out the similarities between the goals, techniques, and pointers presented by the different concentrations. Then, we connected these similarities to the goals and techniques used by poets.

4. Poetry reading. Finally, we were ready to read a poem! Students received “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams and “Underground” by Barack Obama (written in college), two poems that seem “hard to get” at first glance. We took a vote on which poem seemed most perplexing and then discussed it. Students picked out the techniques present in the poem and attempted to connect them with what they thought the poet’s goal was.

5. It’s okay. In the end, we decided that you don’t need to understand everything to “get” a poem. It’s possible to enjoy poetry without annihilating it with analysis.

HW: Optional – I invite all students to bring in a poem they like (or hate) to read aloud in class as a part of Poetry 180, our attempt to read a poem a day just to enjoy it. Otherwise, no homework. Bring your purple textbook Thursday and Friday.

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