Confessions of a Reformed Poetry Avoider (Part 1)

poetry 2

I love poetry. Love it.  I have Emily Dickinson and Carl Sandburg as bookends on my living room table. The teenager me kept a journal is full of collected poems: Maya and E.E. I memorized Browning’s How Do I Love Thee? and felt very proud of myself.

So no one found it more surprising than me that when I started teaching, I avoided poetry like the plague. I loved poetry, but I had no idea how I would go about teaching it, or, even scarier, get my students to write it.  I was sure of a few things when I thought about introducing poetry to my class. First, they would never get it.  I could just picture the cloudy expressions and kids whispering, “Whatttt?” And, boys. Forget about it. They would hate it; I just knew it. How could my fourth grade boys who were only interested in sports and video games possibly want to know how fog and little cat feet were a good comparison?

Fortunately, the online educational community I am a part of was saying just the opposite. As April neared, more and more Twitter chats were devoted to poetry (I had nothing to tweet). Post after post on my favorite blogs were success stories of poetry reading and writing (I was starting to feel left out).  And I started to realize that there should be a place for poetry in my classroom (Only took me 12 years).

It is now the first of May, and I am happy to report that our notebooks are bursting with poems and poem ideas. After reading and analyzing a few of my favorites, like To a Daughter Leaving Home and ones recommended to me on Twitter, like Foul Shot, we jumped into writing some of our own.

Our first big project was a pair of poems related to our shared reading. While reading Gorillas by Seymour Simon, students collected words and phrases about Silverbacks which they then arranged into free-verse poetry. After that, they did the same type of work while listening to our current read aloud The One and Only Ivan. I loved the idea of the contrasting poems side by side about wild Silverbacks and Ivan, a Silverback in captivity.  I would love to explore this pairing of nonfiction and narrative-inspired poetry more, possibly working it into my science or social studies centers.

Gorilla Poetry

Inspired by:

gorillas    ivan

I protect my family
I make decisions
I lead my pack
I live in strength at five and a half feet tall
My family trusts me
has faith in me
I will do whatever it takes
to protect
to love
to defend
my family
For I am the mighty silverback
Hear me ROAR
~ Julie
Stella’s gone
Ruby’s here
Projects progressing
More days going past
Water with no flow
Flowers with no scent
I am Ivan
The Ape at Exit 8
The horror on the billboard
is not me
Names I am called
just don’t fit
Ivan is the real me
~ Elizabeth

Following that project, we devoted our attention to writing friendship poetry. I shared a poem that I wrote for a friend on my blog, and decided to share it with my students as well. In my poem, I made comparisons between food and friends. I invited my students to think of topics they could use for the theme of their poems. Some students compared friends to elements in nature, while others wrote that friends were like books or even video games. This work proved to be a little trickier for some students, especially when I asked them to follow the format of my poem: three stanzas with five lines each.  In the end, I found that almost everyone wanted to share their friendship poems aloud, and many beamed with a pride I hadn’t seen all year during writing.  We share some of our poems below.


Good Friends


Good friends
are the sun and the sky
Always together
Having bad days
and good days
Good friends
are summer, fall, winter, and spring
All going together
One after the other
Like peas in a pod
Good friends 
are the scent of morning flowers
Filling the air with happiness
Warming the sky with love
and making the world better
~ Vienna
Good friends
are your favorite sport
that you always watch
on TV
Good friends
are your favorite food
that you always order
at a restaurant
Good friends
are your favorite candy
that you hope you get
on Halloween
~ Will
Good friends
are the books in the library
The ones you look for
The ones you buy
Good friends
are youtube videos
The ones you want to see
The ones you watch
over and over
Good friends 
are your cell phones
The ones that hold your secrets
and photos
The ones you treasure
~ Lizzy

Even though April is over and state assessments are looming, we are continuing our poetry reading and writing next week using William Carlos William’s This is Just to Say. I am excited to see what creative and funny false apology poems my students will compose, and I will be sharing more of our writing in an upcoming post.

A world of thanks to my colleague Renee who has been trying to reform my poetry avoidance for years. And to all of the wonderful teachers, poets, and bloggers who inspired me with your tweets, articles, and poetry: I thank you for leading me back to the words that I loved all along.



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17 responses to “Confessions of a Reformed Poetry Avoider (Part 1)

  1. writeejit

    Sounds as though you’ve just started the journey of poetic discovery for a whole new generation of kids. Well done.

  2. This is a wonderful post. And these poems are so true. I am pinning them so that others may use them as mentors. Thank you!

  3. Jennifer, I thoroughly enjoyed your blog and your original poem.

  4. Wonderful! I wish I’d had a teacher like you.

  5. Love love love the idea of contrasting poems! Will definitely be using this idea! How awesome!

  6. Wonderful post–and congratulations on diving into an area that was intimidating! You and your students are doing amazing work:)

    Have you seen Tricia’s poetry and science pairings for NaPoMo at The Miss Rumphius Effect? They are fabulous…

  7. Mrs. Tucker

    Such a thoughtful exercise – so much better than the standard “today we’ll write an acrostic, tomorrow a limerick, next a haiku…

  8. I’m reading this and thinking.. this is me! I’ve had those same feelings. But this year.. thanks to social media I did it! We’ve written this is Just to Say apology poems. AND we read Ivan and Gorillas… thanks to you, I am inspired for Monday. Thank you Jen. Always love your thinking.

  9. Did you post any of your false apology poems? I will check your site. I am looking for a lot of examples to show students. Thank you for the feedback. It was a rewarding month, and next year I plan on doing a better job of infusing poetry all year long.

  10. Pingback: Confessions of a Reformed Poetry Avoider (Part 2) | At the Corner

  11. Hi there! I just found your blog through your Poetry Friday post today and had to follow the link to this post. It is just wonderful. Those gorilla poems are astounding, but what stood out for me most was your description of your students: “many beamed with a pride I hadn’t seen all year during writing.” Yes! That’s what poetry can do. I put a big emphasis on poetry as a high school teacher, and I had struggling students and shy kids come out of their shells and raise their hands to read their work. Such is the transformative power of poetry in the classroom! Sorry to go on at length, but I’m so excited you’ve crossed over to the poetry side! Your students are lucky.

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