Just the thought of words packed with such meaning brings pleasure to my mind. Students, however, often shudder and whimper with the mere thought of having to write poetry.
The first question asked anytime I assign a poem to be written is “Does it have to rhyme?” *SIGH*
I know when the students were younger, we introduced them to the likes of Suess and Silverstein. And don’t get me wrong, I love both of those poets, as well as Lansky and scores of other rhythmical children’s poets. But, why don’t we introduce the young students to poems that DON’T rhyme as well. It seems like we save that treat for middle or high school. And they have had the rhyming idea ingrained in their malleable heads for so long it is hard for them to imagine a written poem without rhymes.
When they reach me, in high school, the fear runs deep. They feel if they cannot rhyme, they cannot write poetry. I purposely choose to avoid most poems with rhyme schemes, until much later. I expose them to free verse, haiku, tanka, and more that do not depend on rhyme schemes. They become enthralled with each passing word, seeing how the words build the bridge to their imaginations. I have them use mentor poetry forms to spark their own creativity.
For instance, we use William Carlos Williams “This is just to say” to write our own false apologies. I start by reading the poem aloud to students. I ask them what images form in their heads. We discuss the words as concrete examples of imagery building. But then I take them deeper. We ask questions about why someone would feel the need to apologize for eating the plums in the icebox. We ask how the speaker of the poem might have felt–ranging from truly apologetic to vindictive. We discuss how the receiver of such a note would feel. Then we look at how the poem is put together.
I show them the “form,” which is simple for this poem. We keep some of the words the same and we keep the “form” the same.
(Title remains) This is just to say
(An apology for something done to receiver in 4 lines) I have…
(noting the reason why the apology is necessary in 4 lines) and which…
(ask for forgiveness and your reason for doing it in 4 lines) Forgive me…
I also discuss with students the power of each word in the poem. The verbs and how they move the action. The nouns and their image building properties.
Students LOVE this activity. It is safe. It gives them a form. It gives them the guidance. It shows them rhyme is not necessary. And, they LOVE trying to come up with better apologies…false and real. It is a form many students choose to replicate just because the thoughts start to flow. Here is one example from me. I will post student examples as I get their permission to share!
This is just to say
I have believed
In the words
You spoke to me
You were probably
Only saying to
What was obviously
-Angela Quiram 2012