You all know what English teachers do with poetry, don’t you? We pick it apart piece by piece like a carnivorous animal feasting on its’ prey. Well, that is not poetry is all about. Ask any published poet and he or she will tell you that teachers may be hurting the genre.
I guess I heard it best from John Lennon when he saw a video of one of his songs being dissected by a high school writing class. He laughed after he heard all of their interpretations. He said that his song did not mean anything that they said. This was not the first time he became disheartened by Language Arts teachers. He said that it was quite common that teachers like to take the marrow out of the good bones. I agree with his premise about the problems with teaching poetry. This is how poetry should be viewed and taught here in ten easy steps.
1. Students should be taught meter, rhythm, rhyme, and literary terminology first.
2. Students should then bring in the lyrics to songs that they consider good representations of poetry.
3. Students should then define what poetry is to them.
4. Students should be given a T chart on the differences between prose and poetry so that they can talk the talk of poetry. (syllables, lines, stanzas, couplets, alliteration, metaphors, etc…)
5. Songs work well because poetry is about sounds. It is meant to be read aloud.
6. Students then should be given the background of the poet before any of his or her poems are read. Poets write what they know and feel. Poetry is about emotions.
7. Students should read a poem two or three times aloud before they do anything with it.
8. There is no scale for grading good poetry. Ask Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. He got it right. Poetry is good if you like it.
9. After it is determined that you like a poem or did not like it, try to figure out why or why not. Was it the short hand of metaphors, similes, personification? Was it the rhythm or rhyme. Yes, good poetry can and does rhyme; and sometimes it does not.
10. Emotion cannot be explained. Teachers, please don’t ruin the poetry for your students. Let them appreciate the piece for what it is.