Poetry-Writing Introduction

This introduction was done for younger students, middle school age. However, I don’t think I would substantively change much of this for college students. You can tell I am a new historicist by the approach, but I still think it is a good one.

Poetry introduction.
What is poetry?
Where is poetry?
Who writes poetry?
History of poetry.
How do they write poetry?
How can you write poetry?
How to read poetry aloud.

Homework: Find two people’s favorite poems. Bring a copy of these two poems to class.

What is poetry?
create a feeling
set a scene
may tell a story- used to tell a story, now more often a photograph/scene
may give a moral
may rhyme
a way of expressing something (thought/emotion)

“should be written at least as well as prose” Ezra Pound
pay attention to the way it looks on the page

“use no superfluous word, no adjective, which does not reveal something” E. Pound

one-dollar-frontIf you had to pay $1 for each word in your poem, how many would you have to keep?

Poetry is an experiment.

The poet is trying to say something in a way you’ll KNOW it.

concrete- not abstract “go in fear of abstractions” E Pound
original- new way of saying that gives you a new way of thinking about the thing
has a form- shape or structure the words take MATTERS; haiku, prayer, psalm, etc.

Where do we find poetry?
Jump rope rhymes
Mother Goose
“America the Beautiful”
Reader’s Digest-” Life in these United States” (Robert Frost)
(I was referencing a joke about a police stop and the Frost reference within it.)
comic strips, cartoons
paper: editorials, qtd “Tree” by Sgt. Joyce Kilmer
on the wall? “Foot prints in the Sand” wall hanging
fancy magazines like Sat. Evening Post, The Atlantic Monthly
children’s books
SF novels- John Ringo qts Kipling
Fantasy novels- Christopher Stasheff quotes lots of folks

Who likes poetry?
English teachers (That’s the students’ standard answer.)
police officers
song writers
people who like music
religious people
Paul, quoting a poet about the people
story tellers of all kinds

poetry_reading-i-sheriWho writes poetry?
people who care a lot
dr., nurse
like Michael J. Fox for Parkinson’s

people who like to play with words

people who read a lot
journals (genre specific mags for people in certain fields)
fiction, nonfiction
people who write a lot
curious folks
people who are willing to work hard to improve—often requires a lot of revision

poetry-streamHow do they write poetry?
different ways
Virgil (Roman poet) walked in gardens all day long.
Thought it was a good day if he got one new line.
Elizabethan poet Ben Jonson wrote a prose paragraph first.
Then wrote poem on topic.
John Milton was blind.
Composed Paradise Lost in his head and dictated it.
Frank O’Hara would eat lunch with friends. Go back to work.
Type one poem. Get back to working.
Maya Angelou writes on a bed. She’s been doing it so long she has a callous on one elbow.

How can you write poetry?
Colonial America = Kept a commonplace book. Place to write ideas down.
Artist’s Way– write three poems a day
Keep a journal
Keep a book where you put in “interesting stuff”
Someone gave me one when I was 15. I loved it. Still cut articles, etc.
Practice writing traditional poems
“paying your dues”
Hemingway didn’t write grammatically correct sentences in his novels, but he knew the rules.
Keep a list of subjects to write about.
Ray Bradbury makes a list of nouns. Eventually many become stories.

How to read poetry aloud.
Poetry written to be read aloud.
Read it silently first.
a. Skim the poem: title, length, form.
b. Read it silently to yourself.
c. Look up words you don’t know.
d. Take notes. Many folks use notes to create a history of their reading.
e. Note unfamiliar words and surprises. Pay attention to those.

happy-elephantRead as if you’re interested.
Read in a conversational voice.
Read at a moderate pace. Don’t rush.
Pause at
any punctuation
any surprise
the end of each line
the end of a group of lines
Re-read the poem later. Poems change as you do.

How old is poetry?
See this Poetry Timeline for a different presentation.

Now: Poet laureate, Collins

20th century poets like Maya Angelou who read for Clinton’s inauguration
____ who read for JFK
Christian musicians
Robert Frost
Langston Hughes
TS Eliot

19th C poets like Katherine Lee Bates, who wrote America the Beautiful
Twas the night before Christmas
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Robert Browning
Emily Dickinson
Edgar Allan Poe
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Francis Scott Key (Star Spangled Banner)
Walt Whitman

18th C poets
John Keats
William Wordsworth

17th C poets
Phyllis Wheatley
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
John Donne

16th C poets John Milton
Edmund Spencer The Fairie Queen

15th C poets George Herbert
Dante’s Divine Comedy
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

14th C
The Owl and the Nightingale

8th C

2nd C Christian poetry on fish


7th C BC Gilgamesh

10th C BC Psalms

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