Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Go Poem #7 -- Taking Poetry to the Court

by Tracy Enos

Whenever I bring a piece of writing to a class, I always ask the same two questions: What do you notice? What stands out to you?  With poetry, it’s helpful to read the poem twice.  The first time it sinks in.  The second, you read with your pen, circling, underlining, jotting notes, taking notice.

I teach 13-year-olds, so sometimes what stands out to them surprises me.  Their honesty and innocence helps me to see the unexpected detail.  With the poem “Fast Break”  by Edward Hirsch, in addition to our faithful and true, “What do you notice?”  I also ask them, “What is going on here?”  One of the first things they notice is that the poem is all one sentence.  One action-packed, detail-rich, glorious sentence.  Then we discuss what’s happening.

This poem is a beautiful example of showing action.  Poems about sports are usually goldmines to 8th graders, but it’s the visual action of this poem that makes it even more appealing and brings it to life.

“The shot that kisses the rim,” “the gangly starting center,” “orange leather,” and “the lay-up against the glass” -- these are images my kids know.  Hirsch has created snapshots of common territory in the world of a teenager with the power of language.  We talk about the action, maybe even acting out the descriptions, if your class is dramatic.

If there is time, we draw our own images to reflect the “camera” on the poem.  This leads to yet another wonderful conversation about the need for writers to paint pictures in their reader’s head.  Hirsch does that so well.

If we are in an imitation mood, having the kids try to write their own action filled event is always a good time.  Maybe a scene at a skate park, a football game, concert, lunchroom, or even a video game.  Trying to, “legally,”  keep the poem one sentence is both an exercise in creativity and grammatical power.

The poem is also fun to compare and contrast with Ernest Thayer’s “Casey at the Bat”.  Thayer’s poem is exploded into many stanzas and the action is slowed down to create suspense.  Thematically, it’s also fun to explore the difference between Casey’s one man show and Fast Break’s team effort.  

Ultimately, students enjoy the quick action and realize that poetry doesn’t have to describe ethereal  philosophical issues or feel like a guessing game.  It can be as comfortable as a basketball and as familiar as the sound of a swish through a net.  

Tracy Enos is in her 8th year of teaching English in West Warwick, Rhode Island, where she has the pleasure of learning with and from amazing 8th graders every day at Deering Middle School. 

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