Monday, April 17, 2017

Newspaper Blackout Poems -- A Bonus Post!

As a big "thank you" to all of our contributors this year -- fifteen teachers from around the country in all -- I'd like to close out this year's blog with a video demonstration from Austin Kleon, author of Newspaper Blackout and Steal Like an Artist, on how to create newspaper blackout poetry. If you have never done this before, your students will love it!

Would you like to be a writer for Go Poems next year?  Posts resume on March 15, 2018.  Read submission guidelines here.  It is not to early to start a draft!  Shoot me an email at bvogelsinger at gmaildotcom if you are interested in writing for the blog. Enjoy the rest of National Poetry Month, especially Poem in Your Pocket Day!

Further Reading: 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Go Poem #30 -- Song Lyrics Mash-up

by Penny Kittle

Some students resist writing poetry because they struggle to find words to contain their ideas. Poetry feels Important, Serious, and Literary. It is. But it is also simple, playful, and found in the everyday. In fact, that is its Superpower.

To help my students learn to play, I spend days on found poetry.  We use words we find in an editorial, news article, school hallway, book, or in this case, songs to compose our own poems. The rules are simple: you can't add your own words; you use what you find.  This takes pressure off and opens possibility.

My writer's notebook was open and under the document camera at the start of class one day.  I had strips of lyrics to three songs from the Lumineers piled on two empty pages.  I placed one line, then another, searched for phrases to repeat, and then added those between emerging stanzas. The beauty was in the clean, efficient revising: I lifted lines from my emerging draft and returned them to the word pile or cut a phrase into smaller parts and played with the power of line breaks to slow down my reading.  I searched for consonants to repeat and unlikely combinations that led my poem to new ideas.

“Can we get started?” students asked.

Yes, please.

Penny Kittle is a high school English teacher and writer from North Conway, New Hampshire.  You can follow her work on Twitter @pennykittle.

Further Reading:

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Go Poem #29 -- Parallel Lines

by Brett Vogelsinger

The repetition of grammatical structures, known as parallelism, works especially well for poets because it establishes rhythm and momentum in a piece of writing.  Any writer is concerned with the "flow" of a piece, how it moves, and parallelism is a key skill to acquire for our students as writers.

Joy Harjo's poem "Remember" employs parallelism on two levels.  The repetition of the word "remember" to introduce new ideas couples with the similar structure in the clauses that follow give this poem its remarkable sense of music.

After our first reading of the poem, I ask students to hypothesize the cultural background of the poet from the imagery in the poem.  Most classes are able to conclude the poet is writing from a Native American background using the personification of earth, moon, and stars and the reference to dance in the closing lines as their primary clues.  We briefly discuss how Native American cultures view man's relationship with the earth and how this differs from other cultures.

Just before the second read, I introduce the concept of parallelism, relating it to the simpler term repetition. How does repetition/parallel structure enhance this poem? After a second read, kids are quick to pick out that the structure adds to the rhythm, giving the poem a songlike quality.

As an extension, it can also be rewarding to write together as a class based on this poem.  I have kids write their own "Remember . . . " lines on sentence strips.  On my magnetized board, we attach them and work them into our own collaborative "Remember" poem reorganizing for greater music and momentum as we go. In writing this poem, we have used, listened to, and revised parallel structure.  

Two other poems that work well as alternates for a similar mini-lesson:  "The Delight Song of Tsoai-talee" by N. Scott Momaday or "Famous" by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Brett Vogelsinger teaches freshman English students at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA where he starts class with a poem each day. Follow his work on Twitter @theVogelman.

Further Reading:

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Go Poem #28 -- Burning The Old Year

by Brett Vogelsinger

Naomi Shihab Nye's poem "Burning the Old Year" showed up in my inbox on January 2, 2017, thanks to the amazing poetry teaching resources from The Academy of American Poets, available here and searchable via #poetryclassroom.  The email included some classroom activities, which are excellent for starting a new calendar year, but as all teachers are wont to do, I began thinking about how to modify or adapt the listing idea so that this poem could have relevance any time of the year.

Ultimately, the poem is about what things perish quickly -- "lists of vegetables, partial poems" -- and what lasts -- "so little is a stone."

In their notebooks, I have my students sketch a fire for one minute while thinking about what aspects of life survive the "orange swirling flames of days" and what aspects do not.  Then we make two lists.  What things do we quickly relinquish in life, and what do we manage to cling to, sometimes despite wishing to let go.  What is "paper" in our life and what is "stone?"

These two lists can provide rich ideas for later writing topics, so students can nurture this seed into their own creative writing if they wish.

Also, don't miss Naomi Shihab Nye's excellent speech about teaching poetry:

Brett Vogelsinger teaches freshman English students at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA where he starts class with a poem each day. Follow his work on Twitter @theVogelman.

Further Reading:

Monday, April 10, 2017

Go Poem #27 -- Wreck This Poem

by Brett Vogelsinger

As teachers of poetry, we have likely all spoken about the value of each word in a poem.  It is no hyperbole to say that each word in a poem carries more weight than each word in an essay, short story, or novel.  But to make this fact have a bit more impact, and in the spirit of Keri Smith's wildly successful creative journal series, it can be fun to experiment with "wrecking" a poem.

Anne Porter's Poem "Wild Geese Alighting on a Lake" is a poem that students can easily identify as tranquil in its mood.  I challenge students to wreck the poem in their Writer's Notebooks by drastically altering its mood.  They must do this by changing only five words.

Fair warning: if you try this in class, a fair amount of students will kill off those geese.  Nonetheless, the outcomes are remarkable.  A poem that is nearly the same can be so, so, incredibly different when the writer (student) alters just five of the writer's (poet's) words.  Your class is guaranteed a few laughs along the way, and we can only hope that Anne Porter would forgive and maybe even applaud the kids' irreverent ingenuity.

An interesting extension might include a discussion of the connotations of those five changed words, for it is the associations of the individual words that help to craft the mood in a poem.

Brett Vogelsinger teaches freshman English students at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA where he starts class with a poem each day. Follow his work on Twitter @theVogelman.

Further Reading:

Living Things: Collected Poems by Anne Porter

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Go Poem #26-- Paraphrasing A Rebuttal

by Brett Vogelsinger

Any strong argument can be countered in a rebuttal, and Taylor Mali's "Like totally whatever, you know?" from yesterday's post is no exception.  Melissa Lozada-Olivia answers Mali's attack on our lackadaisical use of language not with excuses but with powerful commentary on what voices with a lack of conviction might say about society at large.

I explain to my students that today's poem will be a poetic rebuttal to yesterday's poem.  No further introduction is required. 

It's fascinating to see that in my classes, the students invariably become defensive of Mali's argument. "He didn't mean it that way!" they cry, "She sounds too angry!" they judge.  To be honest, as a Taylor Mali fan (after all, what teacher doesn't love Taylor after hearing "What Teachers Make") I kind of relate.  But I invite my students to step back from their initial emotional reaction and consider the same question as yesterday: What is her central claim?  What is she arguing in this poetic response? 

This argument is somewhat trickier, but we eventually whittle it down to something like "People speak without conviction because they are used to being overlooked an unheard" or "Judging people based on how they speak will not help them speak with greater conviction."  We discuss whether this is in polar opposition to Mali's argument or just a different perspective on the same issue.  Do both poets believe people have the capacity to speak with greater conviction?  Is there any common ground here? 

The clever repurposing of Mali's own wording here is also worth noting.  Imitation, after all, is not always the sincerest form of flattery.  

When I shared this pair of poems with a colleague in my school district, she pointed out that the rap battle pieces between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton from Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording) would make excellent argument/rebuttal poems for discussion as well. 

Brett Vogelsinger teaches freshman English students at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA where he starts class with a poem each day. Follow his work on Twitter @theVogelman.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Go Poem #25 -- Paraphrasing An Argument

by Brett Vogelsinger

Taylor Mali's  poem "Totally like whatever, you know?" is so much fun partially because it pokes fun at something that is so incredibly true, you know, the way we, like, clutter our speech with totally needless words.  Kids identify with this because they are accustomed to teachers and parents pointing out their superfluous interjections and asking them to work on it.

After watching this poem in the kinetic typography rendition, I ask kids to look at the complete text of the poem on the screen and ask them to consider the piece again less as a poem and more as a piece of argument writing.  If this whole poem is an argument, what is Mali's central claim?  How can you tell?

Many students come up with something like "People need to speak with more conviction."

Then we can consider in a whole-class discussion how he uses details in other lines of the poem as evidence to support this claim and build a strong argument.

Tune in tomorrow to see another poet's rebuttal to this argument which is sure to provoke a response from your students.

Brett Vogelsinger teaches freshman English students at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA where he starts class with a poem each day. Follow his work on Twitter @theVogelman.

Further Reading:

Friday, April 7, 2017

Go Poem #24 -- Sketch This Poem

by Brett Vogelsinger

We read the poem "Little Citizen, Little Survivor" by Hayden Carruth about a rat living in a woodpile, observed by a man starved of the natural environment he knew well as a boy.  The only direction I give is "You now have three minutes to sketch this poem in your Writer's Notebooks.  I will do the same in mine.  Your time begins now."

Part of the fun of this challenge is its impossibility. There is too much to possibly sketch in three minutes, so each reader must decide where to focus, what images are at the crux of this poem.  Moreover, they assume a certain perspective from which to view the poem.  Sometimes I see a long view of the house with the woodpile; the rat is too small to be seen.  Others sketch the rat's tiny nose from bird's-eye view as it peeks out from the woodpile.  Some ignore the woodpile altogether.  I once had a student sketch a bird feeder, zooming in on the detail that this speaker craves interaction with nature.

Sharing these sketches give us a natural entry point to identify what stands out to us in the poem and why, how we visualize as readers, and what matters most in this piece.  I encourage you to enter this activity without too many scripted questions, but rather watch as the kids interpret visually and then explain their thinking.  Questions and ideas emerge organically from these drawings. 

Brett Vogelsinger teaches freshman English students at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA where he starts class with a poem each day. Follow his work on Twitter @theVogelman.

Further Reading:

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Go Poem #23 -- Sense the Sarcasm

by Hilary Czaplicki

One of my favorite poems to use near the start of National Poetry Month is “Did I Miss Anything?” by Tom Wayman.  As literature, the poem is a great study in voice, tone, and hyperbole. The visual structure of the poem makes it easier for students to understand the pendulum-like sarcasm of the teacher as he informs a student of what was missed during an absence. I often ask students to tell me what they notice and annotate the poem. Also, I insist that noticing everything is essential. In other words, they can’t assume that something is not important. This type of close reading builds great reading skills. Eventually, we find the tone, speaker, sarcasm, and message implied.
I usually ask students to consider the following three big questions as they read and annotate (I read once aloud, then they read to themselves and analyze):

1.       What do you think the poem means?  (or what’s at the heart of the poem?)
2.       What makes you think that? (cite some specific ideas or reasons)
3.       How does the author point you to your conclusions about the poem? (I ask students to use the language of literature and point out specific terms, elements, and devices)

As a way of connecting with students through humor, the lesson of the poem works as the concluding lines imply that something was missed (because of the absence), and that something can never be “made-up.” This is not my way of shaming students into better attendance. It is a way to send a clever and subtle message about the importance of being present, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well, a message that becomes an important intangible rule in the learning process. The poem then goes on to serve as a running joke for the rest of the year, whenever someone asks “Did I miss anything?"

Hilary Czaplicki is an English teacher and supervisor in Bucks County, PA. Follow him on Twitter @CzapHil.

Further Reading:

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Go Poem #22 -- Mood Music

by Lisa Levin

Musician Jeff Tweedy recently turned Carl Sandburg’s poem “Theme In Yellow” into “an airy, idyllic folk song” that appears on Brooklyn musician David Nagler's tribute album, Carl Sandburg's Chicago Poems.

The poem describes a midwestern October and is filled with images of "prairie cornfields / Orange and tawny gold clusters" and children "singing ghost songs / And love to the harvest moon" while gathered around a pumpkin (or someone pretending to be a pumpkin), who serves as the poem's speaker.

I project the text of this poem on the screen while my students listen to the song. I tell the students very little beforehand, except that they should try and ascertain whether the poem develops a story from the images the poet creates. After the song, I ask a student to volunteer to read the poem to the class. Next we discuss the literary element of mood. Students define the mood of the poem and then provide lines from the poem as supporting evidence. It was interesting that half of the students found the mood to be peaceful and half found the mood to be sinister!

Lisa Levin teaches ninth-grade English at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA.

Further Reading:

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Go Poem #21 -- A Seasonal Switch-Up

by Brett Vogelsinger

National Poetry Month is a harbinger of warmer weather in many parts of the United States, and most people who experience the bitter extremes of a frigid winter are ready to bid that weather farewell.  Reading the poem "Night Below Zero" by Kenneth Rexroth might seem counterintuitive.

The poem beautifully captures the way "the cold lies, crystalline and silent" in the dead of winter, which can introduce an intriguing challenge for your students.  Can they craft a short, sharp poem like this one that captures the awakening of new life with the first warmth of spring?

When the first beautiful weather strikes in Pennsylvania, I share with my students the line from Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem, "Spring": "when weeds in wheels spring long and lovely and lush."  How amazing is the rhythm and alliteration in that line!  But I digress.

Why not take the poem's title in today's poem, "Night Below Zero" and change it to something in the same concise structure that captures a key element of spring in your community:  "Sunrise Before Alarm Clock" or "Buds Upon Trees" or "Sunshine On Shoulders" (not quite the John Denver song title, but close).  This copy-change technique can be used to help coach students with mentor texts in all sorts of genres.

The same way Kenneth Rexroth uses the action of skiing in the darkness to take the pulse of a season, challenge your students to quick write for five minutes in their notebooks to their title, perhaps just focusing on one key moment or activity that characterizes springtime.  Pencils moving for five minutes will result in a draft; there is always time to go back and revise later, and perhaps you will even choose to grow this seed writing into a lesson on revision.

Brett Vogelsinger teaches freshman English students at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA where he starts class with a poem each day. Follow his work on Twitter @theVogelman.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Go Poem #20 -- A Fluent "Inner Voice"

by Rose Birkhead

Prior to my middle school teaching days, I had the opportunity to teach self contained 2nd and 3rd grade. I learned about the importance of interactive, engaging lessons. Also, I learned about the importance of routine. My students expected a "Poem of the Week" each week. They loved to explore new words, learn new rhythms, and recite poetry. It certainly created more confident readers, and the welcome routine of reciting our poem each day helped improve fluency and overall reading skills.

I realized after my first “Poem in my Pocket Day" in middle school, that many middle schoolers needed fluency instruction as well. So began my fluency lesson with the poem "My Smartphone Isn’t Very Smart" by Kenn Nesbitt. Students appreciate this poem because it is about the beloved smartphone and our constant reliance on it. An added bonus: it makes my students laugh!

I have found, when given the opportunity and a little bit of instruction, fluency can improve! Fluency builds confidence and reminds students to inject expression and rhythm into reading. When I help students discover their inner voices, I find comprehension improves dramatically. It also provides an opportunity to discuss how to appropriately use technology, which is an important topic of conversation in my classroom.

So, I start by projecting the poem on the board. I read it aloud, as the students follow along. Then, I read each stanza and have the students choral read back with me. I accent the rhythm of the poem, and clap my hands as I read.  Next, we practice individually for a about a minute. I call on volunteers to read each stanza. Students really have fun with this poem. It builds confidence, and reminds us to inject expression and rhythm into our reading. The inner voice can help us comprehend so much better!

Rose Birkhead is a Reading Specialist at Holland Middle School. She teaches 7th and 8th grade Literacy classes and  strives to create a positive learning environment where her students feel successful on a daily basis.

Further Reading:

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Go Poem #19 -- The "Ordinary-But-Interesting"

by Allison Marchetti

In her poem “A Valentine for Ernest Mann,” Naomi Shihab Nye posits that “if we re-invent whatever our lives give us / we find poems.”

Gary Whited does just that in his poem “My Blue Shirt” about an ordinary garment whose wrinkles, scent, and fabric offer lessons to its wearer about life.

As a teacher, I love this poem for its ability to help students mine the commonplace stuff of their lives for beauty, and also for its ability to help students create metaphors in their writing. Here’s a series of steps to helping students write powerful metaphors:

  1. First draft reading: Read the poem out loud so students have a sense of what it’s about.
  2. In their notebooks, invite students to sketch the blue shirt in the poem, using the details in the poem to flesh out their drawing. Students should capture the wrinkles, the buttons, and any other details they notice.
  3. Second draft reading: Invite students to read the poem like a writer, marking how the poem was put together, and any craft moves they notice (see picture of student work).

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 1.10.11 PM.png

Ask students to pay special attention to figurative language and how the writer crafts the metaphor at the end. Discuss what they notice as a class.
  1. For homework, ask students to choose an ordinary-but-interesting object (the boots in their closet, the misplaced fork in the pencil drawer, the white coffee cup with the chipped edge), and to describe the object in list form.
  2. The next day in class, have students share their description lists with one another. In pairs, students can highlight the details that have the potential to also describe a person. For instance, Gary Whited uses the phrase “unbuttoned” to describe the blue shirt; this is also a word that could describe a person who is not afraid to be vulnerable.
  3. Finally have students use their planning to craft a poem that imitates Whited’s as closely as possible (see student work below).

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 1.08.35 PM.png

Allison Marchetti teaches high school English in Richmond, VA and is the co-author of Writing with Mentors (Heinemann, 2015), Whole-Hearted Analysis (Heinemann, Spring 2018), and the blog

Further Reading:

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Go Poem #18 -- Two New Haiku

by Peyton Price

Get off the laptop.
You’ll never have any friends!
Mom, these are my friends.

You know what you need?
An attitude adjustment.
“That sounds like garbage.”

A haiku is often described as a three-line poem, with 5 syllables in the first line, 7 syllables in the second
line, and 5 syllables in the third line. Each line should be a complete phrase—in this exercise, do not cheat and break a line in the middle of a prepositional phrase. (Hope you were paying attention the day you learned prepositions!) You should also know that haiku often reveal a “surprise” or shift in perspective in the third line. 

A haiku about people is sometimes called a senryu. Senryu can be ironic or satiric, and poets can shift between the perspective of two people to exactly that effect. In other words, senryu was made for teenagers.

What was the last time someone didn’t get you at all? 
Is there someone whose hypocrisy you want to call out? 
Did you ever think of a perfect comeback after it was too late? 
What was that conversation about?
Now, what was it really about?

Strip away the details and boil the situation down to a universal theme of misunderstanding, played out in 5 syllables, then 7, then 5.

Peyton Price is the author of Suburban Haiku, a collection of poems that lampoons life in suburbia using the traditional Japanese form.  

Further Reading: