Finding Your Poetry Secret Decoder Ring by Christie Wyman
“Poetry is often regarded as a mystery, and in some respects it is one. No one is quite sure where poetry comes from, no one is quite sure exactly what it is, and no one knows, really, how anyone is able to write it,” -- Kenneth Koch, New York Review of Books, May 14, 1998.
April is National Poetry Month and many teachers and librarians all across America are approaching the month with trepidation.
For teachers who feel compelled (or required) to include reading and writing poetry in their instruction, the thought of doing so is a bit unnerving.
Why is this?
If you are one of those who wait until National Poetry Month's arrival at the end of the school year to teach poetry, you aren’t alone.
Many of my teacher friends tell me reading, writing, and teaching poetry makes them feel uncomfortable. Could it be they suffer from metrophobia, the fear of poetry? (Google it. It’s a thing!)
Changing Our Thinking
For many teachers, myself included, our bad experience with poetry in middle school or high school turned us off to its beauty and instructional value.
Perhaps you are like me and remember being force-fed poetry. You read it, but you didn't get it.
As for writing poetry, if we didn’t understand poems when we read them, there was little hope of us writing our own. There were too many forms of poetry to remember, and the rules of each seemed impossibly complex.
We decided that embracing poetry was for our smarter classmates who owned a magical secret decoder ring that helped them enjoy this genre.
Today, poetry has become a vital part of my life, both personally and as an educator.
How did this happen?
I think it started when I began to write for myself. As a writer, I began reading more like a writer, looking at the author's craft from the inside-out. I looked at how my favorite poets created the poems they did -- the line breaks, the word choice, the rhyme scheme, etc.
I also started to read widely. I expanded the kinds of books I read. Doing so led me to do the same with my writing. I wrote in new and different genres than those I usually wrote -- including poetry!
Realizing that I might actually enjoy writing poetry, I reached out to children’s poets on social media, and they encouraged me to share my work. There's nothing like the encouragement of a poet mentor to help you write poetry!
Changing my thoughts around reading and writing poetry helped poetry became more clear to me. Perhaps I found my own secret decoder ring!
Over the coming months, I invite you to come along on a journey of poetry exploration with me.
I'll share how you might add poetry to your reading (and listening) life and into your classroom literature repertoire.
After that, we will move on to writing poetry -- first you, then your students.
A poetic journey, one step at a time. Together.
Your Invite to Write
Each month, I will share a short Invite to Write in my post. These invitations are a way for your to dive deeper into poetry and your own writing. I encourage you to give them a try!
In a notebook, take a few minutes to jot down your feelings about poetry.
What is something positive you remember about poetry? Something negative?
How did you learn about poetry in school?
How did your experience with reading poetry shape your writing of poetry?
Also, find a way to invite poetry (back) into your life.
One way to invite poetry back into your life is to read more poetry. Two of my favorites are A Poem for Every Day of the Year and A Poem for Every Night of the Year (affiliate links). Both books are editied by Allie Esiri and are great for both kids and adults.
I am also a huge fan of Amy Ludwig VanDerwater's Poems Are Teachers (affiliate link). It is an excellent resources for teachers!
Another way to start helping yourself embrace poetry is by listening to a short poetry-focused podcast. Two of my favorites are The Slowdown and Poetry Unbound, both of which last about 5 minutes and are accessible either through your podcast feed or the program’s website.
Through their individual podcasts, both poets introduce you to a wide range of poets and poetry, most of which will most likely be unfamiliar to you.
I invite you to take a listen and imagine how you might conquer your own metrophobia, taking that first step towards welcoming poetry back into your life and subsequently the lives of your students.
The Slowdown -- Host Tracy K. Smith, former U.S. Poet Laureate, offers up a new podcast each weekday. The podcast features a brief set-up to the day’s poem (never her own) with contemporary connections, and then she reads the poem.
Poetry Unbound -- In his weekly podcast, host Padraig O Tuama, often featured on public radio’s On Being and The Moth Radio Hour, again provides a bit of set up, but he reads the poem once, makes his own connections, and then reads the poem again. I like the two readings format, as I listen through new ears the second time around.
I will be back next month with more of my ponderings about poetry. Be sure that you have subscribed to the Teach Write email list so you never miss a post!
Until then, be well!
Christie Wyman has been teaching kindergarten for over 20 years in Weston, MA. She is an avid poet, seeking inspiration for her poems from nature and the world around her. When not exploring a vernal pool or hiking a nearby mountain, you can find her notebooking and writing alongside other teacher-writers. You can connect with Christie on Twitter and on her blog, Wondering and Wondering.