Poetry in the Classroom-Dish It Up!

Article excerpt

What have salad and poetry got in common? More than you think, depending on the experience, the ingredients and the presentation!

Growing up, I believed salad meant lettuce, carrot and tomato chopped up and thrown into a bowl together! Plain, simple, pretty boring, but you knew what you were getting and at least you were eating vegetables! As I grew older I discovered that salad could come in many shapes and forms and be made from such a huge range of ingredients--rice, pasta, all sorts of vegetables, fruit, nuts--the list goes on! Salad can be presented as a work of art, it can be meal on its own or it can complement other dishes. Look at the salad bar at any restaurant and you will see what I mean!

Now, stop for a moment and think about your own attitude and approach to poetry in your classroom. What thoughts and images are conjured up? Do you read poetry to your students? Do your students read poetry? Is there variety in form, length and subject? Do your students write poetry? Does the poetry writing vary or is it a consistent diet of haiku and acrostic? Perhaps your experience and that of your students is limited by the 'boring salad' mentality! The same ingredients, the same presentation and the same output every time--but, like having your own children eat vegetables, at least you have done your job.

So, what can we do to make the experience and writing of poetry more interesting and enjoyable? Let's start with the understanding of poetry itself.

Poetry, historically, has existed for thousands of years, and as such, is an important part of our literary heritage. Novels are a comparatively recent form of literature and children's stories even more recent. The Bible contains ancient poetry in The Psalms and in the chants and songs of the ancient victories of war. Verses have been found on papyruses and carvings from the early civilisations of man. Man has always found a creative and emotional outlet in writing verse.

Poetry is a part of nature--rhythm is present in the trickling of a stream, the whistling of trees in the wind, the song of birds. From the time our lives begin we naturally respond to rhythm. The beat of our mother's heart is the first sound we hear and a sound that soothes tired, cranky babies to sleep on their mother's chest. Even when we tap our feet impatiently or caress a loved one's face tenderly we follow a rhythm that helps express our deep feelings, often without even realising it. Putting these feelings into words is the clever art of poetry.

Think of a time in your life when you have been going through a challenge or a triumph evoking strong emotions and feelings, then you have heard a song on the radio that just captures how you feel and speaks to you. The song has become your catchcry, or your expression, for a minute, a day, or for longer. This is an experience of total connection between poet and audience--for that is what you are doing--responding to poetry! That is what song lyrics are. Every time we sing along with the radio, move to the rhythm of a song, cut loose on the dance floor, we are responding to poetry and the feelings, visions and ideas captured and expressed by the lyricist, and complemented and extended by the musicians. Compare the lyrics of your favourite love songs (easily found through Google) with some of the ancient Egyptian love poems also easily found on the internet. By exploring poetry in this way yourself, you can increase your own awareness and appreciation of poetry.

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Response to its magic (poetry) is spread across humanity: in the mind of the intellectual, in the heart of the lover and in the rhythmical movements of dancers who respond to the lyrics of the songs which pound out in crowded rooms. (Saxby and Winch, 1991 p. 125).

Intact--An ANZAC Memorial Poem
by Francis Raven

   Like u they wished.
   You wish for a 'Wii',
   their loved ones they'd wish to see. …