SAVY 2019: Session 6, Day 2 – The Power of Poetry (Rising 5th/6th)
Welcome to Day 2! In today’s class, we focused on rhyme and inventive language. Students learned key terms of the day, including: rhyme, end rhyme, slant rhyme, rhyme scheme, metaphor, similie, and imagery.
Students spent the morning with a brief communal writing activity, titled, “Exquisite Corpse.” This is a traditional poetry game where each poet writes one line of poetry, folds over the page so the next poet is unable to read the prior line, and hands their new page to a new poet to continue. Students followed a basic template of writing a Vibrant Adjective + Exciting Noun + Juicy Verb per line. The goal of this exercise is for young poets in particular to understand the informal, inventive, and very “weird” (in relation to one of our Writing Guidelines) ways that poetry might form. It is also to encourage poets to experiment, think outside of the traditional box of what they might be assigned/given, and experience the process of surprise in their writing. During our Exquisite Corpse writing session, some students were instinctively using Alliteration, so we discussed this as a literary technique, as well. Feel free to ask your student about their Exquisite Corpse poem! Most were not unified by similar themes, but did provide for interesting splashes of image and style. We reviewed the five guidelines of Writing within our Exquisite Corpse activities.
Students were then invited to consider the quote of the day, “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can every warm me, I know it is a poem,” by American poet Emily Dickinson. Students discussed sensory detail and vivid bodily experience in books they have read before and loved. We discussed instances of sensory detail in poems we’ve read yesterday, including Whitman’s “Song of Myself” (sniffing the leaves – scent) and Ava Leavell Haymon’s “The Witch Has Told You A Story” (yellow sauce, eggs, butter leaking from muffins – sight/taste).
Students were invited to create their own definitions of a “poem” in groups. We then watched the TED Ed video, “What Makes A Poem A Poem?” – and revised our definitions of poetry. We asked about the boundaries surrounding poetry versus prose, and discussed the condensed language, attention to rhythm, and attention to language that poetry calls for.
Students were given an Introduction to Rhyme by reading Shel Silverstein’s “Opening Night.” Students were encouraged to think: What literary effect does rhyme have on the poem? Why might an author choose to rhyme? Students learned the terms “slant rhyme” and “end rhyme,” and were asked to consider the differences and the subtle effects that slant rhymes might have on unifying a poem’s content, or drawing to attention stark differences between unrelated objects. We discussed how rhyme can transform the tone of the poem by controlling the pace, and students also learned about mood/tone as author’s devices.
Students were introduced to Emily Dickinson, and given a brief overview of her life, her work (the fascicles), and reception to her poems. As a Dickinson fan myself, I had the opportunity to visit Dickinson’s grave and home in Amherst, MA, while at a writing conference last year, so I showed students a few photographs I took of Dickinson’s grave, where literary fans in 2018 have left behind tokens of appreciation for her work — hiking boots, ballpoint pens, to name a few. In groups, we played “Poetry Charades” – each group was given a different Emily Dickinson poem, asked to analyze and interpret the poem, and perform the poem in “charades” for the rest of the class. We had a lot of fun with this one! Peers were required to take notes on what they saw based on one another’s performances — using descriptive verbs and vibrant adjectives. We then read each poem out loud together as a class. Students were given a writing prompt and asked to use their notes in Charades to write a poem inspired after Dickinson, using perfect rhyme.
Collectively, we read Dickinson’s poem, “Hope is the Thing With Feathers.” As a class, we deciphered the meaning of this poem, stanza by stanza, and discussed the use of Metaphor and Slant Rhyme in Dickinson’s work, in order to generate a very fresh portrayal of the very abstract concept of Hope!
After lunch, we resumed our discussion of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” from yesterday, analyzing the tone of Whitman’s work, and discussing the tonal effect of free verse, sans rhyme.
We then launched into a discussion and reading of William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day.” Once again, students were briefed on Shakespeare’s writing life and given general biographical data, and a few cool facts (for instance, Shakespeare has 200 references to dogs in his plays, and 600 references to birds!). We analyzed Shakespeare’s sonnet, discussing rhyme scheme (the Shakespearian sonnet rhyme scheme!) and Metaphor — How does Shakespeare use metaphor in order to conjure an ode to his love? What is the mood that the writer is creating through metaphor? We used descriptive language and in-text examples to support our claims! Students learned about iambic pentameter, the sonnet form, voltas, rhyme scheme, and meter.
Students played an Inventive Language Game. We discussed Metaphors and Similies, and also entered into a debate about Clichés (What makes something cliché? Why might we want to avoid clichés in writing literature?) In groups, students were given different objects, and asked to create similies and metaphors from each object. Examples of metaphors students came up with: “The plastic [around a spoon] is a knight guarding a royal king,” and “The banana is as slippery as a waxed floor.” (!) The purpose of this exercise was to introduce students to crafting metaphors and similies, and helping them understand the creative thought-work involved in turning a metaphor into a successful one.
Students will resume sharing and writing more tomorrow, in addition to discussing ekphrasis in poetry, and poetry’s intersection with art, music, and other visual culture.
To engage your students in a dinnertime convo tonight, incorporating some of our class terms and techniques, you might consider asking them: Why do you think Shakespeare is considered the “greatest writer in the English language (of all time)”? What guidelines of writing is he following his poetry? / What makes a poem different from a piece of prose? / Why might writers for younger audiences — particularly nursery rhyme authors — choose to use rhyme as a tool? What effect does rhyme have on their readers/listeners?
Thanks for a swell day! I’m excited for tomorrow!