On September’s Poems


When I came home from my week at the Frost Place back at the beginning of July, I started toying with one of the suggestions I’d heard there:  to start each class period by reading a poem.  That idea seemed somehow radical–most of my students didn’t like poetry; most of the ones who did only liked either sappy love poems, or emo death poems:  the kinds which seem to appeal to poetry-reading students of a certain age.  At the same time, the idea also seemed inherently logical–I read poetry all the time.  Why couldn’t I just pick out pieces I liked and share them?  A couple of minutes at the start of each class, spreading the art of language:  surely that couldn’t hurt anything.  If anything, it might help.  And it certainly would make me feel better.

Babel by Barbara Hamby

So I began.  The poems I chose over the first month were varied:  pieces that I personally wanted to revisit, pieces I thought the kids might like, pieces having to do with something that had come up in our conversations of the previous day, pieces recommended by friends, pieces appearing on “The Writer’s Almanac.”  Some were new, some are old, some are formal, some are not.  I started with Barbara Hamby’s “Ode to Barbecue,” because I love the rollicking nature of that poem, and I love barbecue–I know what it means to wander about looking for the perfect plate of ribs, and I thought maybe the kids would, too.  I chose Michael Macklin’s poem because I thought

Driftland by Michael Macklin

the clashing gears and roaring engine would make sense to the boys (and some of the girls, too).  The wry replay of the conversation between Victoria and the boy across the street, in Joe Bolton’s “Party,” appealed to many.  Some of my favorites, such as the Wordsworth poem, crashed and burned, making me sad.  At the end of the month, the poetic conversation I presented between Ted and Annie Deppe, my favorite poet couple of all time,was curious to many of the kids (“It sounds like they’ve been married for a long time,” one boy said).  Each piece, and its reception, has been a learning experience for me, and as far as I’m concerned, that counts for something.  It has been, in September, rather like my own version of Poetry 180:  I got to choose the poems, and they were dictated by my own reasons, rather than Billy Collins’.

I did notice a  funny thing happening, though, in that first week:  the kids began to expect their poem at the beginning of class, and if it looked as though I’d get caught up in administrivia and forget, they complained.  One day, I did forget in first period, so the next morning, one of the boys demanded two…which I provided happily.   However, I will know that I’ve truly succeeded with this subversive poetry reading once one of the kids asks for a particular poem, or even better, brings one in to read himself or herself.

Now I present to you the list of pieces for the first month of this school year.

August 30, Monday:  “Ode to Barbecue” from Babel by Barbara Hamby

August 31, Tuesday:  “April 23, 1962” from Driftland by Michael Macklin.

September 1, Wednesday:  “Party” from The Last Nostalgia by Joe Bolton.

September 2, Thursday: “English Flavors” from The Hour Between Dog and Wolf by Laure-Anne Bosselaar.

September 3, Friday:  “Old Guys” from Talking in the Dark by Wesley McNair.

Boy Land by Dawn Potter

September 7, Tuesday:  “Ray” by Hayden Carruth

September 8, Wednesday:  “Boy Land” from Boy Land by Dawn Potter

September 9, Thursday: “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802” by William Wordsworth

September 10, Friday: “As Into the Garden Elizabeth Ran” by A. E. Houseman (also known as “The Use and Abuse of Toads”)

September 13, Monday: “Laundromat” from North Into Love by David Adams

September 14, Tuesday:  “Block” by Hayden Carruth.

September 15, Wednesday:  “The Most of It” by Robert Frost.

September 16, Thursday: “A Field Guide to the Heavens” from A Field Guide to the Heavens by Frank X. Gaspar.

September 17, Friday: “Stillbirth” from A New Hunger by Laure-Anne Bosselaar

September 20, Monday: “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold.

September 21, Tuesday: #112, “Success is Counted Sweetest” by Emily Dickinson

September 22, Wednesday: “Disney’s Cinderella” by Tennessee Reed

September 23, Thursday:  “In the Waiting Room” by Elizabeth Bishop

September 27, Monday:  “Under the Same Sky” by David Adams

Orpheus on the Red Line by Ted Deppe

September 28, Tuesday: “The Return of Odysseus” by George Bilgere

September 29, Wednesday:  “The Red Line” from Orpheus on the Red Line by Theodore Deppe

September 30, Thursday: “Still Life with Storm” from Sitting in the Sky by Annie Deppe.

I look forward to October.  And November.  And the rest of the year.  I’ll let you know what happens.

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8 Comments

  1. Please keep doing this. I KNOW kids are poets at heart and you make awaken a few!

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  2. Beth W.

    This is great, Anne. How lucky to have you for their teacher! It also reminds me of a story from Frank McCourt’s Teacherman. He read “My Papa’s Waltz” to the class and discussed it with them…and it had a profound effect on one of his students. (I would say even a life-changing one.) You never know where the poems will land and lodge in young brains, how they will help, inspire or coax them to think and have courage. Bravo to you! Keep reading.:)

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  3. Ruth

    Anne, I appreciate this adventure you’ve taken. I teach 5th grade and attended The Frost conference in 2009. Students ARE poets IF the teacher is enthusiastic as you are and IF they have the exposure to poetry. Keep doing this. I’ll look forward to visiting this space often.

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  4. Jenny D

    Great idea Anne – I hope you keep it up. Not everything you love will hit a response – but if they never hear it they never have a chance. Two of your links don’t work by the way – the Wes McNair poem and the Carruth ‘Block’. I loved the Carruth ‘Ray’, by the way, which I hadn’t read before, also the Laure-Ann Bosselaar poems.

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  5. Jean Kanzinger

    Your adventures are awesome because YOU’RE awesome. I love this…and I am stealing your list of poems. 🙂

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  6. Ode to Barbecue? That’s a good poem. Thanks!

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