A Symphony of Words: Poets Talk about Their Craft (Part I)

By Lesesne, Teri S. | Teacher Librarian, October 2003 | Go to article overview
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A Symphony of Words: Poets Talk about Their Craft (Part I)

Lesesne, Teri S., Teacher Librarian

Who are some of the preeminent poets writing for our students? How can we conduct successful classes in poetry? How can we go about bringing a love of poetry to our students? Who better to ask than some of the wonderful folks writing for our students today? Recently, I sat down and asked Kristine O'Connell George (KOG), Ann Paul (AP), Sonya Sones (SS), Kathi Appelt (KA) and Lee Bennett Hopkins (LBH) to respond to a series of questions about their passion in life: poetry.

Kristine O'Connell George is one of the winners of the Lee Bennett Hopkins award for a promising new poet. Her newest book is Swimming upstream: Middle school poems. Ann Paul writes picture books as well as books for older readers. All by herself: 14 girls who made a difference tells the stories of young women and girls who change the lives of others in ordinary and extraordinary ways. Fellow Texan Kathi Appelt's new book of poetry is called Poems from homeroom: A writer's place to start. Both of Sonya Sones' novels in verse have been named to the American Library Association's Best Books for Young Adults lists. What my mother doesn't know is her most recent offering. Last by not least is the "godfather" of poetry for young readers, Lee Bennett Hopkins. Author of dozens of poetry books as well as the person responsible for establishing poetry awards to encourage and recognize young poets, Hopkins' latest collection is entitled Home to me.

Drop in and eavesdrop on their conversations. I promise some insight into the author's craft as well as some good tips about bringing poetry alive in our classrooms.


What inspired your love of poetry? What can teachers, parents and librarians do to instill a love and not just an "appreciation" of poetry in kids?


Picture this: a tall, skinny, terrified kid in winged glasses quaking in front of her Grade 3 class reciting the first poem she's ever memorized--all 52 lines (not counting refrain!) of The cremation of Sam McGee. Somewhere, in the middle of whispering my way through the first few stanzas, I realized the kids in my class were actually listening. What an awesome feeling! Both my self-confidence and volume soared toward the end of the poem. I sat down at my desk feeling relieved and eternally grateful to Robert W. Service for making me feel so powerful--powerful enough to captivate my fellow third-graders. What's not to love?

I'm certain my poetry flame would have burned brightly and steadily throughout my childhood and teen years had someone regularly read poetry to me and encouraged me to read and perform poetry aloud (even if it terrified me). I doubt that I would have wanted to analyze or dissect poems; it would have been enough to hear a poem a day read aloud in class and encouraged to write my own poems. And, because nine-year old girls in Texas have little in common with grizzled miners in the Yukon, I would have been delighted to meet poems that spoke directly to my age level and interests. Immersion, oral readings, exposure to a rich diversity of poetic voices and opportunities to write poems would help young students develop a love of poetry.


My love of poetry began when I was became a Grade 6 teacher in New Jersey.

I found how quickly it could change children's lives, particularly those students who were not up to reading level. Poetry is short, vocabulary usually simple, and oft-times more can be heard and felt in 6-8-10 lines than an entire novel can convey.


Reading poetry, lots of poetry, inspired my love. What didn't inspire my love was taking apart a poem, studying its meter and rhyme scheme, paying attention to metaphor and simile, or interpreting the poet's meaning as I was required to do in school. Only years after graduation, when I could sit down with a book of poetry and just read, did I begin to truly appreciate it and to make it a part of my daily life. Love grows slowly and is not forced or analyzed.

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A Symphony of Words: Poets Talk about Their Craft (Part I)


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