Thursday, March 16, 2017

Go Poem #2 -- Reversibles

by Jason Stephenson

What can poetry do? Many of my students initially think that poetry can rhyme and not much more. Once I’ve introduced free verse poetry to them, I like to share a poem with a different kind of format or structure.  "Refugees" by Brian Bilston is a reversible poem, one that can be flipped for an entirely different meaning. Reading the lines from top to bottom refuses refugees; reading the lines from bottom to top welcomes them. (This format of poetry is gaining some ground. Jonathan Reed made waves with his “Lost Generation” poem in 2007, which won 2nd place in an AARP video competition.)

In my classroom, we read the poem aloud from top to bottom, then bottom to top. I give my students time to discuss and react to the poem in their small groups. Then we share our reactions aloud. I might ask some of these questions:

  • How did you react to this poem the first time? The second time?
  • How do you think the poet wrote this poem?
  • What is the purpose of this poem?
  • Why might this poem have two perspectives?
  • Would this poem be more or less effective if it weren’t reversible?
  • Should poems be political?

To conclude this lesson, we might attempt to reach consensus on a name for this new type of poem. Reverse poem? Reversible poem? Flipped poem? Palindrome poem?

Jason Stephenson teaches creative writing at Deer Creek High School in Edmond, Oklahoma. Follow his work on Twitter at @teacherman82 to learn more.

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