How to Excite Young People About Poetry

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OPEN DOOR EDITED BY DOROTHEA LASKY, DOMINIC LUXFORD, HOW TO “Worried you don’t know how to teach poetry? and JESSE NATHAN EXCITE Frustrated that your students groan at the sight of a poem? Open the YOUNG Door will change all that. The writers not only give teachers permission PEOPLE to approach the teaching of poetry through a fresh portal, they also ABOUT provide clear directions for finding that elusive door in the wall. This is POETRY a GPS for both the poetically challenged and anyone in search of new word horizons.” —Carol Jago, former President, National Council of Teachers of English This one-of-a-kind mixture of essays, interviews, and lesson plans gath- ers the best thinking about how we can impart the value and joy of OPEN poetry to kids. The essays in the first section—from Matthea Harvey, Ron Padgett, the William Stafford, Eileen Myles, Kenneth Koch, Theodore Roethke, and many others—illuminate the importance of poetry to a well-rounded edu- the cation, in and out of traditional classroom settings. The next section is a roundtable conversation among a handful of creative men and women who’ve helped set up or run poetry education centers around the United States. In the book’s final segment, award-winning poets offer an array of brilliant lesson plans for people teaching poetry to kids of all ages. DOOR Open the Door will be useful for first-time and veteran teachers, as well as parents, babysitters, MFA graduates, and anyone else with an interest in poetry’s place in the lives of our younger citizens. EDITED BY D O R O T H E A L A S K Y, 00 15 D O M I N I C L U X F O R D , and J E S S E isbN: 978-1-938073-29-8 51500 NATHAN H O W T O E X C I T E 9 7819 3 8 0 7 32 9 8 YOUNG PEOPLE ABOUT POETRYOpen the Door How to Excite Young People About Poetry "" %& Dorothea Lasky, Dominic Luxford, and Jesse Nathan '()) +,)+ -+)& ,./ “-+. , ' 0+)1"” .). "+) Ilya KaminskyOpen the Door: How to Excite Young People About Poetry is a copublication of The Poetry Foundation and McSweeney’s Publishing. For more information about McSweeney’s, see www.mcsweeneys.net For more information about The Poetry Foundation, see www.poetryfoundation.org Copyright © 2013 The Poetry Foundation Cover design by Oliver Munday All rights reserved, including right of reproduction in whole or part in any form. Individual poems and other content in this book are used by permission from the copyright owner. McSweeney’s and colophon are registered trademarks of McSweeney’s Publishing. “The Poetry Foundation” and the Pegasus logo are registered trademarks of The Poetry Foundation. Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-938073-28-1 Paperback ISBN: 978-1-938073-29-8 First printing, 2013 Contents 6 Editors’ Note 7 Acknowledgments 8 Introduction: Opening the Door Dominic Luxford Part 1: Essays 21 The Read-Aloud Handbook Jim Trelease 27 Poetry Is an Egg With a Horse Inside Matthea Harvey 39 The Process of Opening Gifts Jack Collom 69 Life as Primary Text James Kass 79 Teaching Children to Write Poetry Kenneth Koch 91 The Care and Feeding of a Child’s Imagination Ron Padgett 105 First Class Theodore Roethke 115 Children’s Poetry Eileen Myles 123 The Change Agents Phillip Lopate 131 Recitation, Imitation, Stillness Jesse Nathan 151 Fears, Truths, and Waking Life Jordan Davis 163 The Door Called Poetry William Stafford 169 Making the Rounds Jimmy Santiago Baca 175 Radical Strategies Karen Volkman 179 A Dream Dorothea Lasky Part 2: Roundtable Discussion 192 Featuring Leaders of Poetry Organizations for Kids from Around the United States: Dave Eggers, Bertha Rogers, Michael Cirelli, Amy Swauger, Martin Farawell, Terry Blackhawk, Megan McNamer, Terri Glass, Pamela Michael, Kevin Coval, Jeff Kass, Matt Mason and Andrew Ek, James Kass, Patrick Oliver, Bob Holman, Robin Reagler, Susan Grigsby, Mimi HermanPart 3: Lesson Plans 263 Dream Machine Michael Dickman 267 Attending the Living Word/World Elizabeth Bradfield 275 Eavesdropping on a Figure at Work Yusef Komunyakaa 277 Syllabus Meghan and Liam O’Rourke 285 Three Imaginary Soundtracks Eric Baus 291 A Perfect Creature in the Imperfect World Valzhyna Mort 295 Poems Are for Everybody Alex Dimitrov 299 Cartogram Anthony McCann 301 The Image List Michael McGriff 305 Elsewhere Katie Ford 309 Bad Titles Matthew Zapruder 313 Street Sonnets Deborah Landau 317 Autobiographia Litter-Aria Christina Davis 321 Putting Two and Two Together Dara Wier 327 Dreaming in Detail Travis Nichols 329 Be a Bunch of Yous Laura Solomon 333 (Soma)tic Poetry Exercises CAConrad 337 Eating Couplets and Haiku Vicki Vértiz 343 The Sonnet as a Silver Marrow Spoon Adam O’Riordan 347 Verse Journalism Quraysh Ali Lansana and Georgia A. Popoff 353 Persona Poetry Quraysh Ali Lansana and Georgia A. Popoff 359 A Poetry of Perception Rebecca Lindenberg 371 Poetry Walk Harriet Levin 375 Love Is the Universe Emilie Coulson 379 Advice for Teachers Stephen Burt 389 Afterword: A Call to Action (or What to Do After Reading This Book) 390 Contributors 399 Credits Editors’ Note The information in this book is provided as a resource and source of - inspiration for poets to consider when thinking about creating commu nity, excitement, joy, and learning around poetry for younger audiences. Ideas and knowledge about the topics in this book are ever changing, so we present this book in the spirit of an evolving conversation. The content derives from a broad spectrum of contributors who have an extensive range of viewpoints and experiences. Their discussions often describe the general issues at hand and include ideas about resources or poems; however, this information is not meant to be exhaustive or - address any reader’s specific situation, and inclusion is not an endorse ment of specific content or of a particular course of action. Readers are invited to consider the materials and topics raised in the book, as well as other available resources, while they make thoughtful decisions based - on their values, priorities, and circumstances. Readers should seek addi tional answers and resources that address their specific circumstances, wishes, and needs, as well as relevant laws. - The authors of the essays made great efforts to provide accurate, rel evant information on a wide range of topics. However, many details are liable to change and, in many instances, are subject to interpretation. - The publishers cannot accept responsibility for any consequences aris ing from the use of this book. 6Acknowledgments Thank you to the Harriet Monroe Institute and to Ilya Kaminsky, Beth Allen, Lauren Ricke, Daniel Moysaenko, Catherine Barnett, Kathleen - White, Charlotte Crowe, Elizabeth Wachtler, Matthew Zapruder, Geor gia Popoff, Jared Hawkley, Sarah Marie Shepherd, John Lusk Babbott, Flynn Hoxby, Ryann S. Wahl, Fred Courtright, Zachary Cupkovic, Susan Hogan, Gabriel Kalmuss-Katz, Jessica Kovler, Robin Reagler, Ethan Nosowsky, 826 National, the Berkeley Public Library, the San Francisco Public Library, the Cecil Green Library at Stanford, Teachers & Writers Collaborative, Jane Hirshfield, Kristin Hanson, and Irena Yamboliev, on whose dining room table in the Mission District of San Francisco the final files for this book were assembled. 7Introduction: Opening the Door ,)30): When did you first realize you wanted to become a poet? 011( .(44+)": I’ve thought about that, and sort of reversed it. My question is, “When did other people give up the idea of being a poet?” You know when we are kids we make up things, we write, and for me the puzzle is not that some people are still writing, the real question is why did the other people stop? One of the traditional aims of art has been to defamiliarize the familiar, but for children, the defamiliarization process isn’t needed: Every phase of childhood is new. Every stage in the ongoing process of growth upends and rearranges the child’s world. As a result of meeting each moment with fresh eyes, children are natural artists and, once old enough to speak, natural poets. “Teaching really is not the right word for what takes place: it is more like permitting the children to discover something they already have,” wrote poet and educator Kenneth Koch in Wishes, Lies, and Dreams, his influential 1970 chronicle of teaching poetry to elementary-school - students. “Treating them like poets was not a case of humorous but effec tive diplomacy, as I had first thought; it was the right way to treat them because it corresponded to the truth.” Too often, though, children stop acting like poets when they start learning about poetry—about the forms and rules, about the right and wrong ways to think about, and express their experiences of, life. Though many excellent books have been written on teaching poetry to kids, most also assume a traditional academic setting. This book, by contrast, does not take for granted such a setting and often looks beyond that framework toward nonprofit, community-based organizations that 8aim to unite poetry and children. While there are certainly benefits to - teaching in schools (funding, regularity of schedule, and required atten dance, for example), there are also real, sometimes huge, advantages to teaching poetry beyond the walls of academia. A call to action for poets who want to teach poetry in their communities, Open the Door is also a practical guide for those interested in developing their pedagogical skills, or even in setting up community poetry programs of their own. Teaching poetry is one important way to help children become human beings who are fully awake to the world. —Megan McNamer The book is organized into three sections. Part 1 consists of a mix of newly commissioned and influential past essays on the importance of teaching poetry to children. Part 2 is made up of a roundtable discussion, edited from surveys sent to sixteen model organizations throughout the United States, on practical ways to set up and maintain a thriving poetry organization or afterschool program. And Part 3 offers a more direct and practical how-to feature: sample lesson plans. All in all, we hoped to create a lively, engaging book, a collection of writings that explores the many ways to encourage the youngest of today’s poets in their discovery of what poetry can mean in their lives. But before jumping in, let’s take a look back at some of the more recent developments in arts education from which this book grew. Teachers & Writers Collaborative, Poets-in-the-Schools, and Kenneth Koch Beginning in the mid-1960s, and inspired by the cultural revolution spreading across the country, a public-school reform movement began to gain momentum. For the writers and educators convened at a series of 9+-, ' "++) national conferences in 1965 to address ways to transform public educa- tion, “There seemed to be a shared conviction that the teaching of English was ‘a disaster area.’” The minutes keeper at one conference at Columbia University put the overall feeling soberly: In the public-school system children do not learn to write as a means of telling the world about themselves or as a way of telling themselves about themselves. They learn that writing is limiting, that they must take on a “standard language” for writing, and that standard language bears little relation to the language they are speaking or using to communicate. And if writing is separated from the self, reading is divorced from life. From within this climate, many education leaders became convinced - that poetry, and the arts generally, might best be taught by instruc tors from outside the traditional textbook-focused, assessment-driven educational climate. Two years after these conferences, some of the country’s top writers—including Grace Paley, Muriel Rukeyser, Kenneth Koch, June Jordan, and Anne Sexton—founded Teachers & Writers - Collaborative, a nonprofit organization whose mission was to bring writ ers into schools to stimulate students’ appreciation of literature and, - generally, to reanimate the teaching of creative writing. Since its found ing in 1967, Teachers & Writers has played an active role in the education of more than 760,000 children. The nuttier the assignment, often, the better the result. —Theodore Roethke A few years after the founding of Teachers & Writers, the idea that practicing writers and artists might best be suited to teach those subjects - went mainstream, and the National Endowment for the Arts began fund ing poets-in-the-schools (PITS) programs around the country. Today 10,)+"/6+,: +-,,7 ' "++) there are dozens of poets-in-the-schools and writers-in-the-schools (WITS) programs in the United States, which collectively reach more than 100,000 students each year. As suggested by the popularity of these programs, poetry may be - presented most successfully when teachers are able to find creative alter natives to traditional pedagogical practices. An emphasis on teaching the - formal elements of poetry, grades, and other number-based forms of eval uation too often result in students feeling alienated from poetry. Teachers who are able to resist some of these institutional pressures can enliven poetry for children—especially small children—by focusing instead on qualities such as freedom, spontaneity, affirmation, personal expression, and the encouragement of open, creative exploration. This leads us back to poet and educator Kenneth Koch (1925–2002). No discussion of the history of teaching poetry to children would be - complete without paying due reverence to Koch who, in 1968, spon sored by Teachers & Writers, began teaching poetry to students at P.S. 61, an elementary school in New York City. Compared to the “groans of disapproval and cries of anguish” that too often greet the introduction of poetry into classrooms, Koch’s students would clap and cheer as he entered the room. Koch wrote two groundbreaking books from these experiences: Wishes, Lies, and Dreams (1970) and Rose, Where Did You Get That Red? (1973). The trouble with a child’s not being “crazy” is that he will instead be conventional. —Kenneth Koch In the “maelstrom of creation” that was frequently Koch’s classes— “I let the children make a good deal of noise. Children do when they are excited, and writing poetry is exciting”—Koch met his students at their level, which was, with a little encouragement, astonishingly high. Koch reported that his pupils wrote poems that “would make me gasp,” and 11+-, ' "++) after glancing through the many student poems included in each vol- ume, it becomes clear why. That Koch was able to see, and help animate, the natural poet in each child is palpable on every page. Poet Jordan Davis writes in his essay “Fears, Truths, and Waking Life” that “The key to understanding Kenneth Koch’s work with children and using it as a model for your own teaching is that you have to take children seriously— their feelings, their ideas of beauty, their ways of using the language.” Koch’s two books have served as inspirational models for countless teachers since their publication. Onward: On Starting an Organization of Your Own During the next several decades, moments of innovation and promising theoretical developments played tug-of-war with budget instability and the increasing pressure of standardized assessments. These same decades saw growth, however, not only in the number of nonprofits engaging young people with poetry, but also in the diversity of their programming. - A glance though the organizations in Part 2, for instance, reveals offer ings that include in-school and out-of-school classes, teacher-training programs, residencies, festivals, reading series and open mics, camps, research centers, spoken-word and hip-hop education and presentation, online and location-based audio and visual resources, websites with every conceivable material and tool, magazines and book publications, a literary garden, and a text-based art gallery. Yet amid this diversity, some - themes stand out as especially noteworthy for those interested in start ing a youth poetry organization of their own. Teaching in museums, parks, and gardens opens up oppor- tunities that we don’t have in the classroom for students to observe, discover, and respond to through writing. —Susan Grigsby 12,)+"/6+,: +-,,7 ' "++) People First and foremost are the people you are involved with—your employees and volunteers, the ultimate measure of any arts organization. Martin Farawell, poetry program director of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, responded to our question about the best way to maintain a thriving poetry organization: The answer is deceptively simple: surround yourself with - good poets and good teachers, and listen to them. No mat ter how brilliant, original, or exciting you may find your own ideas about teaching poetry to be, the impact of any - program you create will depend on the quality of the peo ple going out into the field and doing the work. And the two qualities most commonly cited as responsible for a staff member’s long-term success? Perseverance and passion. Collaboration Also of special importance, according to Part 2 respondents, is maintain- ing collaborative, conversational relationships with other organizations. Advice was generally this: As much as possible, and without losing your unique organizational identity, become part of a network of like-minded and sympathetic regional and national organizations. Make sure your organization is an active participant in the big picture. Partnership is not just for growth, but often for survival. 13+-, ' "++) Keep Your Ear to the Ground Another essential quality is cultural relevance. Just as an organization devoted to hip-hop performance may have made less sense a few decades ago, the glimmerings of an organization that makes perfect sense a decade from now may only be emerging. Youth art organizations exist to teach and inspire, but the specific modes for doing so most effectively - continue to evolve in tandem with the culture in which the organiza tion is located. “Remain relevant,” writes Kevin Coval of Young Chicago Authors. “Poetry is contemporary art. Alive NOW. About the worlds we - inhabit this moment. The work and words should reflect, refract, repre sent, and re-present these realities.” Anyone who’s ever visited a poetry group for teenagers held in any inner-city church basement or community center has seen firsthand how much poetry matters. —Martin Farawell Fun And finally: make it fun. According to one study, most people stop read- ing poetry because they find it “abstruse and lifeless.” Should you decide to start an organization of your own, it will be up to you to change that. One way to do so is to unleash the creative energy that likely brought your students to you in the first place. “All the motivation is intrinsic instead of extrinsic,” writes Jeff Kass of Neutral Zone. “Perhaps that is the biggest advantage of writing workshops outside of school: kids who - engage in such workshops do so solely with the goal of improving as writ ers.” Tap into that energy, and hang on. What can be said of teaching poetry to children also holds true for poetry organizations in general. “Poetry will always be a wild animal,” 14,)+"/6+,: +-,,7 ' "++) William Stafford writes in his essay “The Door.” Though your organi- zation will need to maintain some level of stability in order to survive, beware of being too stable. As Dave Eggers writes about starting 826 National, “We let it all unfold naturally, even chaotically, and that kept it vital and surprising.” Imagine wildly. —Terry Blackhawk There is, finally, only one real measure of this book: whether it encour- ages readers to help create opportunities for young people to become more engaged with poetry. There are a million ways of doing so. We hope Open the Door provides some inspiration and guidance along the way. — Dominic Luxford 15+-, ' "++) .+/)6. 6" Popoff, Georgia A., and Quraysh Ali Lansana. Collom, Jack, and Sheryl Noethe. Poetry Our Difficult Sunlight: A Guide to Poetry, Everywhere: Teaching Poetry Writing in School Literacy, & Social Justice in Classroom & and in the Community. New York: Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 2007. Community. New York: Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 2011. Galt, Margot Fortunato. The Circuit Writer: Writing with Schools and Communities. New Reagler, Robin. Phone conversation with York: Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 2006. author. October 26, 2011. Gioia, Dana. Can Poetry Matter? Essays on Schwartz, Lisa K., Lisbeth Goble, Ned English, Poetry and American Culture. St. Paul: Graywolf and Robert F. Bailey. Poetry in America: Review Press, 1992. of the Findings. Chicago: Poetry Foundation, 2006. PDF available at www.poetryfoundation. Koch, Kenneth. Rose, Where Did You Get That org/foundation/initiative_poetryamerica.html. Red? Teaching Great Poetry to Children. New York: Vintage, 1990. Stafford, William. Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer’s Vocation. Ann Arbor: . Wishes, Lies, and Dreams: Teaching University of Michigan Press, 1978. Children to Write Poetry. New York: Harper Perennial, 1999. Teachers & Writers Collaborative. 2012. www.twc.org. Lopate, Phillip, ed. Journal of a Living Experiment. New York: Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 1979. Parr, Michelann, and Terry Campbell. “Poets in Practice.” The Reading Teacher 60, no. 1 (2006): 36–46. 16Part 1 Essays