Category Archives: Poetry

“Look Here!” Voice and Persona in #Poetry with Seattle #Poet Carolyne Wright at the #PNWA Summer Conference

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Image of Seattle Poet, Carolyne Wright reading a poem aloud beside a microphone

Image of Carolyne Wright at 2015 PNWA Summer Writers’ Conference

I’ve recently returned from the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association‘s summer writers’ conference 2015. This was the PNWA’s 60th anniversary, so they had quite a large turnout. As usual, the classes were taught by some phenomenal people. This class, “Look Here!” Voice and Persona in Poetry, taught by a resident poet of Seattle named Carolyne Wright, really dug at my soul as a writer and inspired me to delve into the souls of the characters I write about.

I’m sharing my class notes here, in the hope that I can pass that inspiration on to other writers who follow this blog:

In poetry we often think that the “speaker” of a poem is somehow greater than, less than, or equal to the poet. But Wright finds a poem can have a persona of its own.

In Greek, the “persona” referred to the mask worn by the actors in a theater production. The audience could identify the characters from mythology based on this mask and its features. Connect this image with the poem. Think of the poem as the mask. It hides the poet, showing us the face of someone else in all his or her emotional glory.

So when we read a poem, we need to remember that the voice in a poem isn’t always the voice of the poet.

Poems can do what plays do, without actually using dialogue. In poems we have what’s called dramatic monologues. It’s not the same thing as dialogue. Monologue is just one individual’s internal thoughts and ideas being expressed. Dialogue is between two individuals. But monologue helps us explore the inner life of a character.

We, as readers, want to understand, but often are baffled by, what makes other people tick. A writer has the gift to be able to do this exploring through the creation of a poem.

When you read a poem, ask yourself this: if you were reading that poem as part of a play, what would you infer about the character who is saying it?

Wright directed our class to read “Look Here” by Pamela Alexander, and afterwards, we discussed that poem:

In a poem, there are no stage directions, and often no specific information about the setting. But you can imagine these things.

After reading a poem like “Look Here,” we could, as an exercise, write a new poem in the voice of the “she-bear” or the POV of the male to whom the poem is directed.

In poetry, repetition is a strategy for building power in the “speaker” within the poem. Pamela Alexander uses repetition effectively this way.

Next, our class read “Monet Refuses the Operation” by Lisel Mueller.

Here’s a woman poet, writing in the voice of a French impressionist painter who had cataracts, and whose paintings reflect his fuzzy vision. Imagine this poem being written by a novelist who wants to “inhabit” the body of Claude Monet and offer up his reasoning for not having an operation to “correct” his vision.

In doing so, Mueller explores Claude Monet’s understanding of life and the value of life as a blind person.

Next our class read “Mary Poppins II: That’s Ms. Poppins to You” by Allison Joseph.

The voice of Ms. Poppins sounds African American, not British. It’s very obvious, that in the voice of this character, this woman is no Julie Andrews. This nanny points out class differences in this poem. She also demands respect that she’s not getting.

We can always write a reply to the poems or the stories we read. Pay attention to minor characters. What might they say in a poem?

 

As our class came to a close, we read poems that were replies to each other. They were:

In conclusion, our teacher, poet Carolyne Wright, offered suggestions to those of us in the audience who consider ourselves more story-writers than poets:

Poetry and prose really blend into one another. For a certain kind of emphasis, for a certain rhetorical effect, you can blend your poetry into the prose you write as a novelist.

_____________________

In retrospect, now that I’m home and thinking back on the class I took with Carolyne Wright, I realize that I’ve been using poetry to help me create my prose for some time now. In fact, some of the scenes for which I receive the most positive feedback from my beta readers, are those for which I have written poems to help me shape their descriptive elements.

At the end of class, I happily purchased Carolyne Wright‘s book of poems, Mania Klepto: The Book of Eulene. I think my students will enjoy reading these poems in the coming school year.

How to Teach Rhyming Poetry to Middle School Students (or Anyone Else, for That Matter)

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How to teach 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th graders to write poetry that rhymes rhyming poemsNot everyone has the gift of poetic language, right? For those who find it easy, the poems just flow out of you like a river flows off a mountaintop!

For kids who are fairly new to the concept, they need a jumping-off point. It helps to have them hear poetry read aloud. It also helps to have them read a few poems of their own.

But how do you help them create poems that demonstrate rhyme? I recommend that you start with a rhyming web. You can see an illustration of one of these displayed on this page. Students who are writing a poem about baseball might start with the words ball or throw. They can then create a spider web of words that rhyme with ball or throw.

From there, you often have to help them remember that the rhyming words generally fall at the ends of lines. Otherwise, you’ll get poems that look like this:

throw the ball

to and fro

I’m a pro at baseball

 

To help kids understand the basics, I suggest you visit my page on poetry “rules,” as it offers three basic rules of traditional poetry. By teaching them these three basic rules, you’ll start getting poems that look more like this:

The ball is fun to throw

Back and forth, to and fro

It makes me feel like a real pro!

I have a ton of questions about poetry. Can you answer any of them for me?

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how many stanzas are allowed in a poem?

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When we started reading poetry, the teacher asked you to write down three questions you still have about poetry. Did she answer those questions for you? If you can find the answer to those questions in your notes, please do the following:

  • repeat the question you asked
  • answer the question using complete sentences

If she didn’t answer those questions over the course of our class, please do the following instead:

  • repeat your question
  • google your question and search the web for an answer
  • summarize what you’ve learned in two to four sentences (do not copy/paste someone else’s words)
  • copy/paste a link to the website(s) where you found the information

Here’s an example of the former (i.e. you asked about something we did learn in class):

  1. My question was, “What type of poems did Shakespeare write?”
  2. According to my notes, William Shakespeare wrote sonnets. A sonnet usually has fourteen rhyming lines that follow a certain rhyme scheme.

Here’s an example of the latter (i.e. something you didn’t learn the answer to during our class):

  1. I’m going to answer the question, “Are American poets better than British poets?”
  2. According to Prof. Brander Matthews of Columbia University (who wrote an article for The New York Times), if you compare 19th Century American poets to 19th Century British poets, there are MORE British than American poets. However, he also thought certain American poems, like “The Night Before Christmas” have greater popularity world-wide. So to summarize, there’s more poetry available from British poets, but it isn’t necessarily better than American poetry.
  3. I found this article at this link to The New York Times: http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F20F12F7345813738DDDA80894DA415B828DF1D3

Poetry that withstands the test of time… Tick-tock-tick-tock.*

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what makes a poem a "classic"?

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Some poets were so moving, so talented, so… [fill in the blank], that their poetry withstood the test of time. It seems like the poetry that lasts the longest seems to be capable of bridging generation gaps. Even in this age of technology, we still mourn the passing of great world leaders, and that’s why Walt Whitman’s poem “O Captain! My Captain!” still moves people today, even though Abraham Lincoln’s assassination is long behind us.

You’ve been studying a particular poet. What made his/her poems stand the test of time? What themes in their poetry are still relevant today? What images appear in their poems that still seem meaningful to modern-day readers?

Write a paragraph in which you a.) state which poet you’ve been studying, and b.) offer several sentences (with at least one useful quotation from his/her poetry) explaining why your poet has endured the test of time. Here’s an example:

I’ve been reading the poems of Robert Browning, and my favorite of his poems is “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”. In this poem, the town of Hamelin is infested with vermin: “Rats!/They fought the dogs and killed the cats,/And bit the babies in the cradles,/And ate the cheeses out of the vats…” Even in the twenty-first century, the idea of a rat biting a baby makes people cringe. With all of our technology today–cell phones and plastic, pharmaceuticals and space travel–we continue to share our planet with vermin, so Browning’s theme is still one everybody understands. No one wants to share their living space with a rodent, and in my opinion, that’s why “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” has withstood the test of time.

*For extra credit, what poetic device is “Tick-tock-tick-tock”? You must be the first to offer the right answer, spelling your response correctly.

Ralph Upchuck writes poetry… but not very well!

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free sample essay with problems to discuss in an English classroom lesson plan

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The following is an essay written about the fictional poet, Ralph Upchuck. Take a look at the essay’s study of Ralph’s poetry and critique it (i.e. tell what’s wrong with/what’s good about the essay). List four things you find problematic. List one thing the writer does well. You’ll need to read through all of your classmates’ comments as well, because you’re not allowed to repeat anyone else’s ideas.

The Poetry of Ralph Upchuck

     Ralph is a poet from the 20th century. He mostly likes to write about bugs and stuff. I like his poems a lot. They’re pretty good mostly.

     This poet’s skill at creating metaphors and similes is far more interesting than any other poet before his time.

   Ralph’s poems are kind of shaped like bugs. That’s the form. “The mosquitoes under the sun make me think twice/About going outside when it’s nice…”

    Ralph has great imagery. “…and that’s why it bit me…” So you see, I picture a bug biting me in this line from his poem.

     The tone of Ralph’s poems is serious and scientific. He uses big science-related words.

     Ralph uses bug bite themes the most. “Bug bites are scary/Especially when the bug is hairy…” Mr. Upchuck also writes about strep throat in his poem called, I Kissed a Girl and Now I Gotta Pay. “Strep throat makes me feel so icky/But I get to stay home from school/Whenever I’m sickly…” I think Ralph is pretty morbid really.

    Ralph uses poetic language like similes and metaphors and stuff. He also uses words like infectious, swollen, and mosquito. He has a unique choice of words.

     His poetry is considered 20th Century poetry.  Here’s the entire poem of A Spider Bit Me and Now I’m Going to Die:

A spider bit me

And now I’m going to die

I don’t know why I try

I wish I could fly

But instead I’ll die

Bye-bye

     This poem uses the typical vocabulary of the 20th century, with a few science words thrown in.

    So you see, Ralph Upchuck’s skill at creating similes and metaphors is far greater than any other poet of his time. He’s better than Maya Angelou, Robert Frost, and even Shel Silverstein.

What inspires a poet?

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inspiration of william carlos williams' poem what inspired emily dickinson william shakespeare to write sonnets

Extra Credit: Who is this poet?

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For this journal, you’re going to have to do three things:

  1. Read your poet’s biographical information on Wikipedia and
  2. Take another close look at the poem you submitted for last week’s journal comment on this blog, then
  3. Add a comment to this post, similar to the example below

What events in your poet’s life may have inspired the creation of the poem you submitted last week? If you quote Wikipedia word-for-word, please supply a link to Wikipedia.

Here’s an example:

  1. “The Pied Piper of Hamlin”
  2. by Robert Browning
  3. Here’s my quoted stanza from last week: “…In Transylvania there’s a tribe/Of alien people who ascribe/The outlandish ways and dress/On which their fathers and mothers having risen/Out of some subterraneous prison…/So Willy, let me and you be wipers/Of scores out with all men–especially pipers!/And, whether they pipe us free from rats or from mice,/If we’ve promised them aught, let us keep our promise!”
  4. On Wikipedia, I read that Browning’s mother was an accomplished musician, and Browning inherited his mother’s talent. This may have inspired his creation of a musically talented trickster character, like the pied piper. However, I also learned that the fairy tale of the pied piper is much older than Browning himself. Wikipedia also says, “Robert’s father, a literary collector, amassed a library of around 6,000 books, many of them rare. Thus, Robert was raised in a household of significant literary resources.” So one might guess that he was exposed to the original fairy tale of the pied piper in his father’s library.
  5. Wikipedia Citation: “Robert Browning.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 April 2011. Web. 21 April 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Browning>

Post a poem in the comments please!

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You’ve been reading poems by a famous poet. Maybe you hate his/her poems. Maybe you love them. Maybe you like some and don’t like others.

For today’s blog comments, please post a poem and analyze it. What do you think of that poem? Do you like it? Do you hate it? Why? What makes you feel so strongly about this particular poem?

Here’s the assignment in a nutshell:

  1. Tell me the title of the poem.
  2. Name the poet who wrote that poem.
  3. Type at least one stanza from that poem (5 lines or more).
  4. Write a few sentences describing what you really think of that particular poem. (Use appropriate langauge, of course.)
  5. At the bottom of your entry, give the title of the book from which you copied that poem, and give the page number, just because it’s a good idea to cite your source.

How simple is that?

free teacher lesson plans on students poetry opinion paper journal topics

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Here’s an example:

  1. The Pied Piper of Hamlin
  2. by Robert Browning
  3. …In Transylvania there’s a tribe/Of alien people who ascribe/The outlandish ways and dress/On which their fathers and mothers having risen/Out of some subterraneous prison…/So Willy, let me and you be wipers/Of scores out with all men–especially pipers!/And, whether they pipe us free from rats or from mice,/If we’ve promised them aught, let us keep our promise!”
  4. Most people are familiar with “The Pied Piper of Hamlin”, a tale in which a town is infested with rats. A piper comes to rid the town of their vermin, but when they refuse to compensate him as per the agreement they’d made, the magical piper steals their children from the people of Hamlin town. I love this poem, partly because it’s just a fun narrative to read to children, and also because it has a good moral. In this last line, it says, “If we’ve promised them aught, let us keep our promise!” What a good moral this tale has! People should keep their promises.
  5. Book title: POEMS OF ROBERT BROWNING (Edited by Donald Smalley); my quote comes from page 82.

A few tips about quoting poetry:

  • The / mark is what you write, when you come to the end of a line. Use this only if you’re writing prose, but including lines of poetry therein.
  • It’s a good idea to put quotation marks around the titles of short poems. Epic poems get underlined, italicized (if typed), or in a blog comment, you can just put them in ALL CAPS.
  • The elipsis (…) is used to show that your quote skipped around from one section to another.

I look forward to reading your comments! Which poem will you choose?