J— L—— Today at 1:51 pm, June 5, 2020
fun idea: Mr. Slaby should teach his poetry in class.
Aw, thanks! However, I have been very reluctant to do this for many years. While I very much want you and other students to not only know that I do this poetry stuff (and have done it since I was a sophomore in high school), I also firmly believe that the classroom is not a platform for me to peddle my work or to hold it up as exemplars to emulate. I have had writer-professors who have done that, who have handed out their books before or during class so students can “see how they did it”; to me that’s egotistical, ugly, and self-serving. The writer-professors who have, at the end of a course, handed me a book of theirs and simply said, “Hey, I just want to give this to all of my students as a gift,” I have very much appreciated. So there are different ways of approaching this, but I gravitate more toward the latter, reserving my work either for contexts and circumstances where I think it could be helpful or interesting or appreciated or as some kind of a parting gift (hence the graduation poem). However, while the recent graduation sonnet was indeed a parting gift to L— C— and all of his fellow graduating seniors, it was also an important moment for me.
I believe that sharing my own literary work in the context of my job as an educator must serve the primary purpose of enhancing your learning and/or helping you discover/follow your own interests and passions. My creative work is not the end all be all of exemplars. Far from it! I am one poet among many, and there are far more accomplished and skilled poets than me living and working among us. I want to share their work with you even more than my own.
My main goal as an educator is for you to feel and understand that you are more competent in engaging with poetry than you may think and to help you increase your confidence in engaging with poetry. While I believe you can learn from many great contemporary and past poems, I also believe that I am in a position to be a poet you know, someone actively living a writer’s life. If my poet’s life can help in that, so be it. I hope that, at times, seeing me do it will take away some of the mystique, maybe even inspire some of you to give it a try (a.k.a. “If Mr. Slaby can do it, I can do it, too!”). I may be the first poet some of you have met. So you know, I’ve probably shared more with this year’s 10th grade classes than I ever have in years past. For some, it may seem like I have shared very little. For others, it may seem like I have overwhelmed them with my resources on poetry and poems in this last unit. I am sensitive to both extremes and feel that, as an educator, I must do right by both.
Regardless of where you feel you are on that continuum, I want to thank you all — our work together this year in our final unit during the covid-19 pandemic has shown me the importance of living authentically as a poet in my classroom. Like you, I’ve learned a lot and have grown a lot, too. You and your classmates have shown me that I can live authentically as both poet and teacher among you.
Taking all of this into consideration, I’m making it my goal from here on out to integrate more of my poetry-life and its experiences into our school community (and carefully and mindfully into class when appropriate), being aware that not everyone needs/wants that work. When it is relevant and appropriate to the context of your learning, I will be more than happy to share.
J—, long before I was a teacher, I committed myself to a writing life (in fact, it was in sophomore year in high school when I did so). One day when I stop teaching, I will still be living a writing life. I think living that way with you/all students can show you that living a writing life is not only possible but achievable and sustainable, even if your paying day job involves working as a doctor, an insurance executive, a nurse, a mail carrier, or like me, a high school teacher. If you commit to the art you love, the art itself will sustain you. As you define that art for yourself, that art will also come to define you in some way. Perhaps, like fiction writer and poet and all-around wonderful former professor David Huddle puts it in The Writing Habit, you will choose a writing life as “a way to live in the world.” Or maybe you will choose some other form of art. Or perhaps you won’t choose art at all, opting for sports or finance or, or, or. All of those paths are good. But my hope is that perhaps you can appreciate the power and beauty of poetry in particular through having me as a your poet-teacher. I hope you carry some appreciation of the genre with you long after you leave my classroom or the school that we share.
I have no idea whether or not you will come back to poetry after my class. However, as a poet and as a teacher, I sincerely wish that you each find your own authentic ways to live in the world and maybe, just maybe poetry will be a part of that. If not, perhaps you will simply understand why people gravitate toward poetry, the art of the language itself in all its nuanced beauty.
All my best,
When I was asked to introduce one of the two student speakers at this year’s graduation for the high school where I teach in Shanghai, China, I was more than honored to do so. However, I wanted it to be special, fitting both the young man who asked me and the circumstances of this occasion, so I decided to do it in verse, specifically in blank verse followed by an original Shakespearean sonnet.
In order to celebrate the event, a parent group put together watch parties along/near the Bund on May 31. While I could not attend (since I’m here in the U.S.), I watched online as colleagues, students, and parents shared their images over social media. Here’s one of the images of a special skyscraper lit up to celebrate our two campuses’ graduates:
A little while later, a current student sent me this image:
This is likely the largest audience to whom I’ll ever read a poem (and this is also likely the largest that my head will ever appear). I still don’t really know how the pre-recorded video really went over with the crowd, but the student whom I introduced liked it, so that’s enough for me.
In case you were wondering what I said, here are my introductory remarks:
To all of the students who graduated this year (both at SAS and across the globe), congratulations!
As a reader of this blog, if you get a chance, follow the link in the video. By doing so, you’ll find the student whom I introduced, a colleague who introduced the valedictorian speaker and the valedictorian speaker herself, our faculty speaker, our head of school who is also a poet, and many, many more wonderful moments, including the opening remarks by a member of the Graduating Class of 1949! Or, you can just click here, at least for the time being: https://www.saschina.org/class-of-2020/puxi.
All my best,
For this year’s #NationalPoetryMonth, I wanted to contribute to the reading and writing of more poems, specifically poems in received forms. Although limited in both equipment and in video production skill, I have posted a few videos which I’m calling, “Poet-Friends & Forms” in which I either address a specific poet-friend and a form in which they’ve worked (Episode 1) or I share my conversation with that poet-friend about a specific form (as is the case in Episodes 2 and 3). This is a work in progress, and I’m not sure how many more I’ll be able to produce this month, but right now there are three episodes, all designed to introduce viewers to some poetic forms they might want to learn about and/or try out for themselves.
Here are the three episodes currently available:
Episode 1: Rhina Espaillat & the Ovillejo
Episode 2: Lewis Putnam Turco & the Rubliw
Episode 3: Moira Egan & the Sonnetto Rispetto
Be well, stay safe, and write on!
As a poet, author, and teacher, I love sonnets, so this episode of Poet-Friends and Forms is pretty special. In it, fellow sonneteer and overall brilliant poet, author, translator, and educator Moira Egan discusses not only the sonnetto rispetto form but sonnets in general and gives some tips for the beginning sonnet writer!
Moira has been a poet-friend for nearly eighteen years, ever since I took her workshop at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland. In fact, it was that workshop that led me back into poetry and to form, eventually to publishing my own sonnets and quatorzains in a variety of places. Without her guidance and instruction, I might not have discovered the joys of working in set forms, let alone the sonnet!
So please check out this very special extended episode of Poet-Friends & Forms! And again, Happy National Poetry Month!
Over a decade ago, a week or so before Easter, I was in a Hallmark store looking for a card to send to my parents. I came across one specific greeting card which featured words by the American writer of religious and inspirational poetry, Helen Steiner Rice, whose father died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. The verse therein was sappy and sentimental, filled with what one of my former poetry professors once called the “Enemies of Good Poetry.” (see below)
Steiner Rice’s verse was not the type of poetry that sat well with me (or that still does). Standing there in the store, her card in my hand, I thought about the wonderful religious poems and poets of the past, and I imagined a much more exacting poet than Steiner Rice (and one whose sentiments would be the direct opposite of hers), taking her sentimentality to task, a sort of toe-to-toe epic verse battle. An opposing, skilled poet-speaker versus Steiner Rice! A poetic duel! I smiled a bit wickedly, put the card down, selected another to send off to my parents.
Over the next few weeks, the circumstances in the store and Rice’s words kept rattling around in my head. I thought more and more about this idea of a battle between two poets, “Did such a thing exist?” I finally found my answer in the OED. According to the OED, a “tenson” is “a contest in verse between rival troubadours; a piece of verse or song composed for or sung in such a contest.” This is what Provencale troubadours had called a “tenso,” which in French translated to “tenson.” What if I (or an exaggerated speaker version of my self) were to challenge Steiner Rice’s sentimentality and poorly-crafted verse to a sort of poetry duel? I kept wondering about it, obsessing over it — “How would I do it? Everything would have to be maximize the Aids to Good Poetry and minimize the Enemies of Good Poetry…”
A few weeks later, on Easter itself, my ever-the-contrarian father-in-law, had come over for dinner and had brought lamb as his main dish contribution, which was a departure from what my family was used to eating on that holiday — ham. I made deviled eggs, which I do and have done on many holidays. After the day was done, once my family was asleep, and with Steiner Rice’s greeting card verse and the idea of a verse battle still in my head, I penned this sonnet-like piece which appeared in unsplendid 2.3. I write, “sonnet-like” since it is a quatorzain, meaning it does not conform to all of the sonnet rules, since it is not in iambic pentameter, and cannot be formally called a “sonnet” (which I understand is arguable). I chose trochaic lines quite obviously because they oppose the regular iambic rhythm associated with the love and spiritual verse within the sonnet form, conveying an opposing sentiment. I also tried to make sure that I maximized the Aids to Good Poetry and kept the Enemies of Good Poetry to a minimum in the work. It was great fun to write! Fortunately, the crew over at unsplendid picked it up and published it in their issue 2.3. You can read it here:
Today, much as back then, I think that if you or someone you know appreciates/finds solace in Steiner Rice’s greeting card verse or in the Christian religious views associated with it, then I acknowledge that that is both real and valuable. However, the craft of Steiner Rice’s work is what I had taken issue with back then and still do.
Today, Easter Sunday, is indeed a time of hope and spiritual connection for many, and many great poems have been written about it, the season, and religious and spiritual connection. Yeats, Herbert, Donne, Pinsky, Doty, Untermeyer, and more all have wonderful easter poems. One of my favorites is William Blake’s “The Lamb”:
A quick search on the topic of “Easter” at The Poetry Foundation finds many, many well-crafted poems for the day. Why not check out some of those today?
So Happy Easter, readers!
Be well, stay safe, and read more poems,
In the first episode of Poet-Friends & Forms, I spoke about Rhina Espaillat and the form, the “Ovillejo” from The Book of Forms, A Handbook of Poetics, Including Odd and Invented Forms by Lewis Putnam Turco. In this episode, I speak with Lewis Putnam Turco himself about the “rubliw”, his friendship with the poet and translator Richard Wilbur, and upcoming editions of The Book of Forms, The Book of Literary Terms, and The Book of Dialogue in 2020. I’m ever grateful to Lew for taking time out of his day to chat with me, and I hope you enjoy tour conversation.
Some background on the “rubliw” (as adapted from The Book of Forms):
- To write a rubliw (pronounced: ruh-bloo), which is a type of epistle, use one rhyme (a monorhyme) set by the name of the person being greeted. It’s nine lines total, and each line increases in its poetic feet until line 5, which then decreases by one foot in each subsequent line. So it begins with iambic monometer, progresses to iambic pentameter in line 5 and then regresses to iambic monometer by line 9. (Adapted from Turco’s The Book of Forms, A Handbook of Poetics, Including Odd and Invented Forms, UPNE, 2012).
Here’s my attempt at the form, which I sent to Lew, hoping he would consent to an interview (I write “attempt” because I botched the pronunciation of the form, so my monorhyme is imperfect and my end rhymes, well, you can see for yourself):
I hope you enjoy watching this episode and get to know a little more about the rubliw and Lew himself. If you want more information about Lew’s Manuscript Collection at the University of Iowa, you can go here.
If you want to give the rubliw a try, why not brighten someone’s day by sending them a message in this poetic form? If you do, I’d love to read a rubliw or two from you!
Be well, stay safe, and write on!
I’ve been thinking a lot about the times in which we find ourselves, how there is a mixture of such grief at the losses accumulating daily and such comfort and solace we are finding in one another. So when a friend on Facebook posted this picture with the caption, “Our world feels like it is upside down–just like the blossoms on these flowers”, there was something about those words that felt haiku-like. So here is my friend’s photo and a brief attempt at a haiku:
For Scott during COVID-19 In April, four white columbine, necks bending, hang their heads low in bloom.
Be well, stay safe, and read and write more poems!
National Poetry Month 2020! I usually spend a small portion of the first day of National Poetry Month writing a promotional post for my “I Notice” Method and the”Noticing Poetry” Unit Plan at The Academy of American Poets or promoting how to transition the method to distance/online learning in order to help teachers and students engage in reading poetry. However, today, I’m taking a break from that to introduce a new project just for fun during National Poetry Month. I’m calling it, “Poet-Friends & Forms”, what I hope will become a new, irregularly published YouTube video series where I speak briefly about a poet I know and a form in which they’ve worked.
Check out my first attempt at an episode below:
Here’s my own ovillejo that I wrote after Rhina introduced me to the form nearly a decade ago at the West Chester Poetry Conference (on Form and Narrative):
Last Workshop at West Chester -- with a line taken from Rhina Espaillat The work done here every year relieves form's pains it rains verse. Adios friends, oh, viejos! We crammed in close to find 'a-has' in las palabras. Every year it rains friends' ovillejos. by Scot Slaby
If you want to give the form a try, let me know how it goes by submitting your own to the Comments feed below!
As always, if you’re in a country currently experiencing a rise on COVID-19 cases, please practice social distancing, stay safe, and read (and write) more poems…
As more and more of the world stays at home more and as so much negative news circulates online and on television, we need to remember the good out there. To that end, I hope that this post helps you limit lugubriousness by finding the funny!
Some Good News (SGN) with John Krasinski
I came across this show the other day while desperately wanting a break from all of the anxiety-producing cornona-coverage. Krasinski’s new stay-at-home project cheered me; I hope it does the same for you.
Perhaps there is no better moment for Weird Al to reemerge than now: https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/weird-al-seriously-gives-a-talented-musician-his-due/2020/03/25/5e10c6d6-69e4-11ea-9923-57073adce27c_story.html
Here are a few of my favorite recent Weird Al sightings on the webs. First, on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon:
Then on Twitter, where he plays the accordion on a rooftop:
I mean how can anyone resist smiling at the sight of U.S.’s beloved parodist-satirist-musician-humorist?
“But wait, what about poetry, Scot?” you ask.
Fear not, fearless reader! I have you covered!
A great place to find the funny is Light, a poetry journal dedicated wit and humor with its weekly feature “Poems of the Week”, which you can check out here: https://lightpoetrymagazine.com/#potw. As a bonus, if you head on over to their Links page, you’ll see other great places to get your fix of light, humorous verse with links to awesome poetry and humor sites such as: Able Muse, The Asses of Parnassus, Lighten Up Online, Measure, Mezzo Cammin, A New Book of Verse, The New Verse News, Parody, Rattle, The Spectator (home of frequent light-verse contests), Snakeskin, and The Washington Post Style Invitational.
I hope these and more provide some levity to your day as you go about your busy lives moving from the kitchen, to the bathroom, to the bedroom, to the basement, to the kitchen to the family room to the front door, to the bathroom to the kitchen to the couch to the front door to the backyard to the front door to the bathroom to the bedroom and finally to bed…
Recently, a friend of ours who lives overseas with her husband and two children returned to North America and began a fourteen-day self-quarantine at home. They live in a rural area with a landline but poor cell service. Their home is on a lake, a beautiful retreat they return to in the summers or whenever they can, but usually with rarity in the winter since their schedules do not allow them to return.
In a recent message, she told me that her husband was teaching their teens how to chop wood and clean the well. Now, they’ve lived in this place for a long time, and the children have been going there for years. Their children are teenagers now, and soon the eldest will be off to college.
After having been here in the U.S. since January 30, my family and I have been social distancing as much as we can and have, within the past two weeks, begun our own habits of self-isolating; I know all too well what my friend was beginning to marvel at — the idea that her kids were learning something that she and her husband could have taught them earlier but never got around to doing.
So I wrote her back with this realization:
“There will be times like that over the next few weeks/months, times when you reflect on the good things you can now share, the irreplaceable moments with one another, doing activities and learning together in ways ‘you never had/made time for’ before. There will be trying times, too, but there will also be this awareness that the time is now to cherish and live fully present with those whom you love.”
So if you’re at home with your kids, please remember that they will remember this time, too. Now is the time to seize the opportunity to love and learn and to be present with our families like never before.
Wishing you all good health in the days, weeks, and months ahead,
During this pandemic, as I am increasingly practicing social distancing, I have turned to poems for comfort and connection. I realize that I have always turned to poems, ever since high school, when, alone in my dorm room, I felt isolated, as if no one in the world could possibly understand what I was going through. One poem in particular I am thinking about this morning is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s, “A Psalm of Life,”
I first read this poem in my sophomore year of high school, when my English teacher, himself a poet, introduced me to the Transcendentalists. As a teenager, it was this stanza which resonated most:
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
“Dust thou art, to dust returnest,”
Was not spoken of the soul.
Even though I lived away from home, struggled with friends, and felt alone, Longfellow’s music, its metrical regularity, buoyed my spirits. It led me to other poems, too, more complex and nuanced poems. Now in mid-life, I find myself ruminating on another part of “A Psalm of Life”:
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing
Learn to labor and to wait.
“Learn to labor and to wait.”
As I, along with many others, grapple with the new long-term reality of social distancing and potential self-quarantine due to COVID-19, these lines provide a degree of comfort, the idea that all of what I’m doing now is waiting and doing the good work of staying connected with family, supporting my kids in their education, caring for friends, family, and neighbors, and for me, reading poems, memorizing poems, and working on my own poems.
However, I’m not the only one finding comfort in poetry. Over the past few weeks, I’ve watched poetry resources proliferate the Internet, and many people I know who previously couldn’t care less about making time for poetry are finding themselves drawn to it.
There are many, many wonderful resources out there, but I thought I’d share a few of my favorites here. If you’re in need of comfort or solace and want to give poems a try, I hope the following resources can help. They surely help me feel even closer to others, even as I practice social distancing:
The Slowdown — For me, this is an old standby, a podcast by former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith’s podcast, a collaboration between American Public Media and The Poetry Foundation offers a 4-7 minute way to slow down and reflect on the stuff of life, followed by a short poem. Click here to access the most recent episode.
Shelter in Poems — This new initiative by The Academy of American Poets asks readers to share poems that “helps to find courage, solace, and actionable energy, and a few words about how or why it does so.” Learn more by clicking the link above.
Favorite Poem Project — Ordinary people reciting extraordinary poems. The is perhaps one of the most valuable resources out there for staying connected to one another through poems during such this challenging time. Check out this one, recorded by a students who has dreams of being a writer and teacher:
Ours Poetica — This YouTube Channel collaboration between John Green and The Poetry Foundation has quite a few episodes and is alway adding new ones. According to their channel, Ours Poetica is dedicated to “Making poetry personal, in the hands of people who love it. New episodes every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.” Here’s the most recent episode:
Recently, I decided to create a new resource for educators and students who use the “iNotice Method” and the “Noticing Poetry” unit plan from The Academy of American Poets website. For years I’ve wanted to help those who could only work on a computer and not have hard copies in front of them. The outbreak of COVID-19 in China and around the world has required me to rethink my pedagogy for the purpose of distance learning, giving me the nudge I needed to address the problem of needing physical copies of poems to engage in the “Noticing Poetry” & iNotice Method pedagogies.
If you haven’t read my “A Letter to Students Before We Start to Read Poems,” I suggest you do that now so you can get an idea of just what the “iNotice Method” entails. If you’ve done that, then download the following file which is simply a Microsoft Word document with the iNotice levels so you can use Track Changes after you watch the screencast example.
So you can see how the “iNotice Method” can work with MS Word’s Track Changes, I’ve created my first ever screencast and published it to YouTube! Just like the original unit plan at The Academy of American Poets, I use Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” to model how one can go about noticing in a digital document. It’s just some basic noticing, nothing fancy or too “deep.” In fact, it’s all about noticing what’s there in order to make connections. This resource will hopefully allow you to do that even if you don’t have hard copies of poems in front of you.
Let me know if this is useful! I’d love to hear feedback from students and educators about the iNotice Method and “Noticing Poetry!”
It’s 2020, and time for a New Year’s post, a post from Vienna where the sun has been shining and the air has been crisp and cold. As I wait here in the Vienna airport, I’m reflecting on the year ahead, specifically on my writing, which has faltered for the past few years while I’ve been living and working in Shanghai, China. I could say that the demands of the job at my highly selective private school keep me from writing, and there may be some small truth in that, but the reality is that to write so is an excuse.
And making excuses about not writing reminds of Elizabeth Cooper, a wonderful former Johns Hopkins instructor of mine who gave all of her students a parting gift — mine was a book — Sonnets edited by William Baer — and she inscribed it with “Just do it!” making it clear to me that she was sick of my excuses about how busy I was teaching, rearing children, etc. I think of that gift now while waiting here, having just learned that several days ago, our family drove right by the summer home of Auden without even knowing it.
Time. Not enough of it. Never enough of it.
There was a time in my life when I would have known about Auden’s summer home far in advance, a time I would have made a literary pilgrimage a mandatory waypoint on my journey. It’s an hour to the west of where we are right now, and with my flight out of Austria looming, I won’t make it there this trip.
These days, I often feel that there is so much of Life and so little of Time, and as I sit here recalling how often I have been listening to the bells of Viennese churches ring in the New Year, I can’t help but remember the lines from Auden’s poem “As I Walked Out One Evening,”:
“But all the clocks in the city
Began to whirr and chime:
‘O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time.”
However, instead of depressing me, the recollection of these words helps me reflect on the year that was and the year yet to unfold. The poem is a reminder to me that there is an ending to all of this, even if I often don’t realize it or worse, if I choose not to realize it.
It might seem kind of strange, but Auden’s poem also brings to mind a 1996 song, “Pepper” by the band The Butthole Surfers from their album Electriclarryland. If you haven’t heard the full song, you can check out the video after the excerpt below:
“They were all in love with dyin’/
They were drinking from a fountain/
That was pouring like an avalanche/
Coming down the mountain./”
Now, the song itself and the Auden’s poem don’t necessarily mesh well overall. However, there is a relationship for me in those lines, an echo that seems relevant as I look backward and forward at the same time. Life often seems as though it is “pouring like an avalanche coming down the mountain” with far too much to take in and far too little Time to do so. At least for me it does… While Auden’s lovers are certainly not the ones “in love with dyin'” per se (or are they?), I think that the two works when recalled here in Austria act as a sort of memento mori for me. The cemeteries and churches
and the poetry of Auden and the lyrics of The Butthole Surfers remind me that Death is always so close and that each moment should be lived in mindful present awareness. We are each always doing “the work” of our Living, whatever “work” that may be. And doing the work of the Living, even when it is hard or unpleasant or sad or unbearable, is still Joy.
“Joy & Woe are woven fine/
A Clothing for the soul divine/
Under every grief & pine/
Runs a joy with silken twine/”
To put it another way, the artist Passenger sings in “Life’s for the Living”:
“Don’t you cry for the lost/
Smile for the living/
Get what you need and give what you’re given/
Life’s for the living so live it/
Or you’re better off dead/”
For me, Joy and Living are about poetry and writing and teaching and exercising and parenting and striving to be a better partner every day. These are most likely different for you. Or maybe not. Whatever your Joy is, keep doing it, whatever your Living entails, keep dedicating yourself to it and to kindness and to gratitude and to making the world a better place in 2020 and beyond.
May you be well,
I received a Google Scholar notification the other day and logged on to find that the research Jordan Benedict and I collaborated on, “Data Diving into ‘Noticing Poetry’: An Analysis of Student Engagement with the ‘I Notice’ Method” had been cited by a Jönköping University School of Communication and Education professor and a teacher at Lycée Français Saint Louis during a conference, “LDN2019: LITTERATURSTUDIERS SAMHÄLLSRELEVANS,” held in early November in Sweden. It was a lovely surprise to find our work referenced there! Here’s a roughly Google-Translated summary of their panel presentation, in case you’re interested in what context our work was cited:
In a previous post, I wrote about how getting students to slow down and notice each unit of meaning, each phrase or clause and what it literally indicates on the page, is such an important step in noticing the Ideational Level in poems. Recently, I’ve become a follower of Ours Poetica, a new Youtube show on poetry presented in cooperation with the Poetry Foundation and author John Green. First, this is definitely a show worth checking out, just for its interesting way of approaching sharing poetry. However, in this episode in particular, I especially like the way that each clause appears on the page as the poet reads his work, tracking and modeling the noticing of each idea.
Check it out here:
While the “I Notice” method and the “Noticing Poetry” unit plan work well to positively impact student engagement with poems, there’s one area wherein I, and many other educators have struggled — the Ideational Level. This is because what this level requires is a noticing of each idea, noticing how they shift or turn. The problem is always the same, “How do I help students notice each idea unfolding in a poem?” Students usually rush through, thinking they’ve got the answer. What can be done?
Recently, a TED Talk by famed author Jacqueline Woodson has been circulating on social media.
Woodson is on to something here, something I alluded to in my previous article Reading Poems = The Mindful Noticing of Language:
In her talk, Woodson says, “But I learned that the deeper I went into my books, the more time I took with each sentence, the less I heard the noise of the outside world.” We teachers need students to hear the words and ideas of the poem, to sit into them with the requisite attention and mindfulness toward language, sentence by sentence, idea by idea, unit by unit of language.
For a while, I thought I needed to alter the “I Notice” method and its accompanying resources, but would this help model for students how go slowly, idea by idea, even if doing so seems painstaking at first? No. The way of noticing ideas is the issue, so what tools are available to help students go more slowly at noticing?
Here’s one idea:
- Ask students to read using their pointer finger to follow each idea’s start and stop place (basically identifying each phrase or clause). This does not mean that students are numbering each line necessarily. Look for the grammatical units of clauses first to identify each subject-verb combination.
- Number each idea as they go through the poem.
- Once students have arrived at the end of the poem, ask students to put each # into the poem level meter.
- After each idea is put in, students should ask, “What do I know now?” and respond in a brief paraphrase about what they know to be true about each individual idea. By looking at the # of ideas, students can see how they change/shift; students also don’t have to rewrite the ideas themselves. Here’s the example of the Ideational Level numbered from the “Noticing Poetry” lesson plan on poets.org:
This revisiting, paraphrasing, and exploring of each IDEA is enough to help students identify what the ideas actually are. It slows them down enough to where they think about each idea representation. This can also be done separately, or the Ideational Level can be cut into strips so students can physically connect them to the other levels’ contents. This allows students to further explore connections betweenIDEAS and SOUNDS, TYPOGRAPHY, and SENSES.
I’m looking forward to trying this out with my students this year! If you give it a go, let me know!
As I look forward to the upcoming school year, I’m thinking about the Noticing Poetry unit that our tenth grade teaching team adopted two years ago and the research that validates its use in helping students become more competent and confident readers of poetry. However, I’m also thinking that the unit doesn’t go far enough. The “I Notice” methodology should be integrated into ongoing practice throughout the year.
This is because the Noticing Poetry unit is a standalone, but it is not incorporated into the daily, weekly reading habits of students and teachers. It certainly can and should be. What I’ve been thinking about for some time is pulling out the levels/cards and using them consistently, and focusing in on the Ideational Level more fully throughout the process, since it’s what most students have the hardest time with. Several years ago, I had deliberately transformed the “I Notice” method into a unit since that is the way most teachers prefer their units of instruction unfold, but I’m thinking now that what is needed is an additional approach in order for “I Notice” to be useful to anyone, not just students. I’m tinkering with the method and the unit, adapting it to be a tool for ALL readers, not just students, allowing more and more people to engage with “the art of the language itself” a.k.a. poetry, even if they have some trepidation or anxiety about doing so.
So stay tuned! An even more useful tool is on the way that can help all readers!
I woke up this morning to a wonderful article in Scientific American entitled, “How Poetry Can Help Communicate Science,” written by Sam Illingworth. According to his bio, “Sam Illingworth, PhD, is a senior lecturer in science communication at Manchester Metropolitan University, in the U.K., where his research involves using poetry to enhance dialogue between scientists and nonscientists.”
It’s a wonderful article, and it reminds me that infusing poetry across disciplines is natural. Language art is limitless in its capacity to communicate!
As a U.S. poet living overseas in China and teaching at a private international school, I’m always on the lookout for ways to integrate multiple disciplines with poems or vice versa, which is why Illingworth’s post reminded me of this sonnet I wrote a while ago:
The overall struggle for existence of living beings is […] a struggle
for entropy [more accurately: negative entropy]…—Ludwig Boltzmann
The mounds of dirty clothes wait on the floor;
the piled-up Matchbox cars, a lonely doll
and Weeble Wobbles loiter near the drawer
where they belong. A “Gibbs” pre-printed football
rests on the kitchen floor. The plate-filled sink—
drowned sippy cups turned upside down, some forks
and spoons akimbo, Oh! The garbage stinks
like Brussels sprouts. This wont of ours won’t work.
It matters that disorder’s all around:
my dappled tie, the flowered skirt you bought,
the scattered bills, the diapers on the couch,
the puzzle piece of Noah’s ark—my God!
We kneel. We pray: redeem us, send a maid.
We’ll need one since we’ll procreate again.
I recently revised the last line (above) from the version of the sonnet which originally appeared in the now defunct literary magazine, Verse Wisconsin. You can still read that version here.
“Every day is filled with poems, it’s just whether you want to turn your head and look at them, or give them a little time on the page or in your mind,” she says in an interview. “I think it helps us to know that.” — Naomi Shiahb Nye qtd. by Henry Gass in his article “This writer’s job: Get young people to see poetry everywhere” published yesterday in The Christian Science Monitor.
As a writer who teaches, all I have to say is, “Yes yes yes!” There is so much that is wonderful about this article in the Christian Science Monitor about U.S. Young People’s Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye and her work. It reinforces what I’ve said before not only here in my post that “Reading Poems = The Mindful Noticing of Language”, but elsewhere as well! Check out the article!