I Have a Quick, Easy Challenge for Everyone – Define Poetry!

Tomorrow, I’ll begin teaching a Free Poetry Writing Class for Adults at Linwood Library, and I Need Your Help!

As usual, the participants waited until the last second to register; therefore, I just discovered that the class actually has students. I sat down to create some hand-outs, and I wanted to begin by defining poetry. I decided that my favorite writers and readers are you people. Please post in the comments box YOUR definition of poetry. Write as much or as little as you want.


7 thoughts on “I Have a Quick, Easy Challenge for Everyone – Define Poetry!

  1. You might ask the group to define poetry. You could do it verbally, asking (more or less right away), What words come to mind when “poetry” is heard?

    I think accomplishing poetry by the end of the first session (or, if one session, by the end of that) might be important for reluctant poets. And then these poems should be shared, passed around or (better yet) read out loud. After all, the group shares a focus and hopefully would be a sympathetic and supportive audience (they could be told to be). So a list of themes could be generated together or given by you. Nature, death, taxes–anything we might find meaning in or from.

    I’m a fan of group work and, with time, would have small groups (three or four persons each group) work up a poem in each group. A message about the theme. It could be assigned as a haiku or other brief-poem form. Someone should be secretary in each group to write the finished work; then someone could be drafted to read aloud to the entire group.

    More important, though, would be to have each person craft a poem. Then the process of making a poem would be tried from start (theme or idea) through drafting (message or the poetic illustration of a scene) then reading and being (respectfully, enthusiastically) responded to.

    In terms of offering others’ poetry as examples, there are contemporary poetry writers who emphasize narrative work (verse about experience and story), which might turn out to be encouraging. Nikki Giovanni and Mary Oliver are two poets who come to mind. But often poetry of the past is meant to speak to real life as well. “Crossing the Bar” by Tennyson, “My Last Duchess” by Browning, “The Wheel” (I think that’s what it’s called) by Christina Rossetti. Even medieval poetry (in translation) tends to write about the challenges in living real life. “The Wanderer” is an example of this.

    But if you have poems to share already, forget the paragraph just above.

    I haven’t brought up asking the question, Why do we write poetry? Though I suppose that’s the purpose of the class. Could be a question to share toward the end of the course, when everyone might have something to say.

    This is exciting. You’ll be great. Enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Please, oh, PLEASE! Christopher. More Ideas. As you know, I write little ditties, lyrics, and picture books. I really didn’t think anyone would sign up. I need help.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/177158

        This might be a good poem for discussion and even interpretation. It is “Next Day” by Randall Jarrell. As far as I know, you may use it: copy it, read it, and so forth (the invitation to print is on the page). Ostensibly, the poem is about a shopping trip, which I imagine most can relate to. There are many touchstones to pretty normal reality. Yet the ordinary leads to individual thought and reflection on the passing of time and on how what we desired feels, once we have it. And what we might want now.

        The poem could be used in a large-group discussion or through small-group work first. I think I’d ask the class, individually or in groups, to look at the parts that are immediately recognizable–brand names in the store, getting groceries into the car, and so on. But there are inner thoughts and questions. What are these? How are they answered, if answered at all, by the poem’s end?

        So there’s a resource. Having the students write and read from the start, though, I still think is vital. They will start gathering what will be the start of a portfolio for an ongoing life of writing. And as I’ve have students write right away, I’d have them keep everything that is set down: group work, drafts of individual work, handouts, any notes, and so on. Which means having the students put everything in a folder and have something to write with and write on for each session. Can all this be done electronically? Maybe. I think, though, that some of the activity will go easier if it’s hand-written down. But if folk bring laptops or notebooks to class, then why not use them.

        Since the class meets in a library, could the library be used? Could you find or have the students find collections of poetry? Again, I’d emphasize contemporary verse, though I’d encourage a range. Poetry for children (getting to your bailiwick) might be fun and meaningful to look at. And looking at something by E. E. Cummings or James Thurber might be good. These writers aren’t contemporary but are often funny. (Cummings, by the way, did not want his name to be done with small-e, small-e, small-c-ummings–he did that one time for effect.) Poetry does not have to be serious, anymore than it needs to rhyme.

        Which gets to my biases. Which you should feel free to ignore. I like poetry that speaks to life, no matter from what era. I prefer shorter poetry to longer. I prefer poetry that doesn’t rhyme. Having a fixed metre doesn’t matter, either, though the sound a poem makes is key. Which is another reason to read poetry aloud.

        What do you think of when you hear “poetry”?
        Who am I (the leader of the class)? Who are you (the participants)?
        What would you like to get out of our time together?
        Have you written poems already?
        What are some topics (i.e., themes) for poetry?
        What form does poetry have to take? (any or none)
        Let’s write–and then may we read aloud?
        Shall we be a respectful and positive audience for each other?
        How about for next time, each of us try to be mindful of the normal things we experience–then see
        how we might think or feel about this normal thing anew?

        These are the questions I might use (and in that order) to frame or thread the sequence of the class. I wouldn’t pepper the class with poetic forms or feet or other terms and elements. When you might want to have the class know and experiment with forms, Annie at What the Woman Wrote posts poetry in forms and describes the forms (and gives links for more more information). Her blog’s a resource I’d go to (https://whatthewomanwrote.wordpress.com/).

        To take apart a poem is scansion or to scan a poem. Since this is not a school class, I wouldn’t emphasize this. Scansion gets to metric feet as well as rhyme scheme (if one), overall stanza structure, source information, tradition or genre the poem might be part of, and so on. If you get any technical questions that speak to these mechanics, please set them down and let me know. If you want to present a specific-genre work, such as a Shakespearean sonnet, then by all means move ahead.

        Frankly, I’d do things to get the group acquainted with you and each other and to set them to work. All as soon as possible. If you don’t feel comfortable with groups working while you’re not, then go through the process of creating poetic work all together. You might need a white board or a projected computer screen for this. And a secretary or someone otherwise set to make good copies (printed or electronically distributed) of what all of you make in unison.

        Now, I have to admit that part of the joy in a class like this for me is not having the pressing need to hand out and have the group complete worksheet assignments and such. I would enjoy a much more organic experience in which we get into poetry, reading and writing, together and separately. Some of the answers to the questions listed above should help guide you in what to do based on class interest and need.

        One other teaching bias I have is to treat each class as its own community. There are things that do not change–who we are, why we’re here, completing any announced or promised objectives. Each class, though, makes its own dynamic as a learning group. Such an approach often helps create an attitude from you that values what each one contributes and in moderating discussions constructively, overall. And from you the class together appreciates all this, too. The community might develop some of its own practices. In my experience, this often has something to do with snacks.

        When I’ve taught poetry, though, I’ve often created a resource and a remembrance with the class of a collection of poetry from the class (one poem per participant) to be given at the end.

        Well, I’ve tried to give you things to do as well as things to think about. As you have more questions or concerns, please let me know. Class energy is often good, when there’s a sense of
        productivity and shared value and zeal.

        Hope some of this helps, at least. If you’re looking for an activity to accomplish some specific thing I’ve not addressed, again, please let me know.

        I hope this class might be a treat for you.


      2. This is wonderful. I wish you lived closer and you could actually be the teacher, and I would simply be the girl who sharpens pencils. Thanks again.

        Liked by 1 person

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