Poetry, like all creative subjects, can be difficult to teach. There are no clear-cut right or wrong answers, no formulas that can be memorized and applied for instant success. What’s more, poetry in our contemporary society tends to be viewed as trite (“Roses are red, violets are blue…”), or archaic (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”), making it a challenge to catch a student’s interest. However, by actively engaging students in the three primary aspects of poetry, they may come to discover the beauty and depth that can be attained through the placement of words on a page.
Poetry has changed greatly over the years, and a vast array of different styles and subjects have emerged as a result. Knowing the context of the poems the students are reading will enrich their experience of the text, as it allows them to make connections that they might not otherwise make and to have a greater understanding of the poem itself. In addition, introducing students to poetry from different time periods will allow them to discover that, although they may dislike poems from a particular era or author, they might adore poems from another. The poems of Dickinson are an entirely different experience than those of Ginsberg.
Though poetry is an art, there are nevertheless many technical terms that students should be acquainted with, in order that they might recognize these elements in poems they read, as well as incorporate them into what they write. Explain the different forms of poems to them: villanelle, sonnet, haiku, free-form, etc. Familiarize them with poetic vocabulary, such as rhyme, alliteration, anaphora, metaphor, simile, and imagery. Introduce rhythm through a study of foot and meter. Discuss the connections between poetry and music for those who may not be quite convinced of poetry’s relevance to the modern age. In teaching your students the ins and outs of poetry, they will gain a greater appreciation for the skill and beauty of the poems they read, in addition to being provided with new tools to enhance their own writing.
All the teaching in the world cannot give the experience that comes with writing a poem on your own. Giving your students this opportunity will help them discover both the joys and frustrations that come with writing poetry. Whether you set up specific parameters or allow them to create a poem of their own choosing, the battle between the student and the blank page will be a lesson all on its own.
Not every student will fall in love with poetry. There are even writers who will admit it’s not their cup of tea. But it is a tragedy when a student rejects poetry simply because they have only been exposed to a portion of it. By unrolling the great expanse of poetry in its entirety and allowing the students to learn about and experience the diversity of this art form, you are giving them a chance to discover a new and beautiful piece of the world, and of themselves.