April: National Poetry Month

Did you know that? Old hat for Brave Writer fans, right?

One of the funny things about being in the “hot seat” for writing and language arts is that I’ve become a confessor of sorts. Mothers like to corner me at conferences or in the hallways of our co-op to ask me their questions and to tell me their guilty tales of failed writing attempts. One question I get frequently is: “How do I teach poetry? Do I have to? I’ve never liked it and don’t understand it. Truth is: we never read it.”

If that’s you, if you’re wondering how to give a lesson in poetry to your kids when you never spent much time with it yourself, I’ve got some ideas for you! April is obviously just the right month to tackle it.

  1. Start small. Short poems are easier to read and process than long ones. Nursery rhymes, haiku, sonnets, limericks, riddles, and any poem with two or fewer stanzas are good candidates.
  2. Read children’s poetry. Especially pick humor. Jack Prelutsky is one of our favorites. You can’t go wrong with Shel Silverstein either. Head to the library, go to the children’s poetry section and scan the offerings. If you laugh, take it home with you.
  3. Read the classics, but in a children’s poetry anthology. My favorite book is Read Aloud Poems for Young People (edited by Glorya Hale). This book organizes poems by all the greats into easy-to-use categories (seasons, country, family, etc.).
  4. Check out one poet at a time. I love the books that feature one author, such as Rudyard Kipling or Lewis Carroll.

Tips for successful reading (do a few of these each time you read, not every time):

  • Definitely steep tea and offer treats.
  • Take time to read poetry aloud.
  • Remember: you may dislike a poem just like you may dislike a song. It’s not unsophisticated. It’s simply your reaction.
  • When you like a poem, read it twice. You get more out of it on the second reading.
  • Don’t feel obligated to generate meaning from the poem.
  • Pay attention to the rhyme and enjoy how it feels to make it happen.
  • Notice alliteration (words that start with the same sounds) and assonance (words that have the same vowel sounds).
  • Copy a line that you liked into a copy book.
  • Use a line as a prompt for a freewrite.
  • Read several poems from one author and see if you can detect any habits (likes humor, writes about nature, always uses an alternating rhyme scheme, alliterates).
  • Jot down a short poem and put it in your pocket. Pull it out later in the day to reread and see how it hits you then.

Whatever you do, enjoy poetry. It’s not to be worked over like a convict. It’s to be savored in your mouth like a chocolate kiss.

10 Responses to “April: National Poetry Month”

  1. Julie Bogart says:

    Check this out: http://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/001.html

    Billy Collins “Introduction to Poetry.” Perfect.

  2. Kay says:

    I wish I would have sat down to listen the day Anna wrote this poem. I listened to her read it to me as I walked around and did the things I thought I needed to do. That was yesterday. Today as I typed the poem into the computer for her…I sat down to listen as she read it to me again.
    I feel in love with my daughter again today!

    Happy Poetry Month! To me the most important thing I have learned from you Julie and the Bravewriter lifestyle is the gemstone to listen.

    Spring Song By Anna (age 10)

    The First Very Spring Like Day is Today!

    Flowers bloom in such a wonderful way, today.
    The trees sway on the cool beautiful cay, today.
    The rose whispers, “Pick me. I’ll make your day, today.”
    Everyone wonders if it’s the month of May, today.

    The spring skirts says, “Wear me before I fray, today.”
    Spring horses are eating lots of hat, today.
    A man says, “Dance with me, I’ll make you sway, today.”
    You capture an elephant to see how much it weighs, today.

    You have to go to the Doctor to get an x-ray, today.
    Then you go right down to the subway, today.
    You forgot it was Jimmy’s birthday, today.
    You go outside to ask the plants a big survey, today.

    See a soccer game in instant replay, today.
    Your husband gives you a bouquet, today.
    You get a latte at the café, today.
    Your children have a big essay, today.

    Take a big day to relax in Norway, today.
    Make sure your dog knows to obey, today.
    You fill the ice tray, today.
    You pass a sign that says one way, today.

    You sit on the back porch and watch a blue jay, today.
    The first very spring like day is today!

  3. Julie Bogart says:

    That. Is. Wonderful!!

    I LOVE that you recorded it, that you shared it, that she wrote it, that you valued it, that you heard her, that you created a memory you can come back to in your imagination.

    I love the creativity of this poem – that opening stanza blew me away. It’s a nearly perfect description of what it feels like when spring begins, and so aptly describes the transitory nature of spring’s coy entrance into our annual cycle. Such hope… so tentative.

    Wonderful use of a million trivial parts of our days, too. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Kay says:

    Thanks from Anna….I typed it in computer while she was sleeping
    She has two corrections:)

    1. The rose whispers “Pick me. I’ll make you gay.” today.

  5. Kay says:

    Message posted before I was finished…..

    Make that three corrections.

    1. The rose whispers, “Pick me. I’ll make you gay.” today.

    2. The spring skirts say, “Wear me before I fray.” today.
    (She told me I had closing quotes in the wrong place.)

    3. Spring horses are eating lots of hay, today.
    (Did I think horses really enjoy eating hats??:)

    She is good at editing also.

  6. Julie Bogart says:

    So great! 🙂

    I wrote the following verse-let today for my Facebook status and thought I’d share it here:

    “frisbee frisbee flashing bright, in the springy sunny light; what mortal hand or wrist makes fly, the yellow disk into the sky?”

    Should be a fun month.

  7. Betsy says:

    Julie, can you recommend a good book of poetry for teens? I checked out the book you recommended and hesitate to get it since the illustrations seem directed at kids younger than my big boys. We’ve been mostly using Immortal Poems of the English Language, edited by Oscar Williams, but I’ve been wondering if there might be a collection targeted at teens.

    Thanks for these reassuring tips for poetry appreciation. And Kay, your daughter’s poem makes me smile. Thanks so much for sharing it.

  8. Julie Bogart says:

    Yes yes yes! Get Americans’ Favorite Poems. It’s excellent and just what you are looking for.

  9. Michelle says:

    Here is a great website with a teacher’s guide full of ideas for performing poetry.

    I have used this at our co-op by breaking the sections down into lessons for a grades 5-8 Creative Drama class and it works really well. The students (and I) have really enjoyed it and Mr Lansky’s selections are very funny.


  10. Nela says:

    Thanks Michelle,really great web page!