Over on Facebook, our own Jen Pezzo asked:
Poetry Friends - I've been asked to share some poetry and speak about being a poet to a friend's creative writing class. What would you share with a class full of high school seniors about being poet?
An interesting question! A few of the local poets responded, and quite a conversation ensued (and is continuing):
Shaindel Beers: At that point, they REALLY need to be told to read heavily to understand what contemporary poetry is. Most of them have been reading work that is 100+ years old. Explain the contemporary milieu, show them modern poems, and get them thinking.
Brian Feltner: HS students still have a chance to develop other useful skills with continuing educations. Some of the best work I've come across is a treat for the eyes and ears as much as the mind. I'd encourage them to develop other skills and allow poetry to permeate them, thinking of new ways to recreate the medium as their own. It also doesn't hurt to have a "back up" skill to help pay the bills if its something that interests them.
Kathleen D Gallagher: Perhaps your teacher friend can assign them to bring in their favorite song lyrics. Then she can pass them on to you and you can discuss how words move us by selecting a few that you like and comparing song lyrics to poetry? Or you can have the students write a poem---see Wishes, Lies, and Dreams by Kenneth Koch for some AWESOME ideas that kids love to do---even the non-poets. I have more ideas. I have taught poetry writing to many different school ages.
Kathleen D Gallagher: It is more suited to younger kids, but....some of the exercises can be used with older children. Let them write a poem while you are there. And then you will have won them over. http://www.amazon.com/Wishes-Lies-Dreams.../dp/0060955090
Wishes, Lies, and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry
The classic, inspiring account of a poet's experience teaching school children to write poetry
Poems for Teens- Poets.org - Poetry, Poems, Bios & More
You write about the life that's vividest. And if that is your own, that is your subject.
Marcus Bales: Don't do it. It's too hard. You're young and beautiful (you're too young to know how beautiful you are) and opportunities to make love and be happy expand in front of you. Writing poems is a difficult, demanding, and unrewarding gig. Everyone you tell you do it, except other poets, will think you're crazy and wasting your time. The poets will think you're crazy and wasting their and their readers' time with your crap. Don't do it. Make love instead.
Redd's Page: Great ideas... Maybe also explaining how being a poet or performing poetry as a hobby can be helpful in life in general as well as career.. For example expanding vocabulary, reading or performing in front of a crowd helping in later years, being able to paint a picture with words and body language etc... I dont think most people understand how your skills as a poet can help you in the "real" world
Kathleen D Gallagher: Group poem activity on the board is fun, too. But might take more time. How old are these students? Seniors versus freshman will require different strategies.
Terry Provost: I'd make the point that poetry is more about breaking rules than obeying them, but they need to know them in order to break them intelligently. And then they need to know a lot about the history of breaking rules in order not to cliche the breaking.
Also, take time to be decent before being too concerned about being great.
Poetry should be fun and alive.
And of course, never listen to advice.
Jen Pezzo: I remember that age... I don't want to bore them away from poetry. I want to get them excited about it...
Kathleen D Gallagher: Terry has some awesome advice, but if you are only visiting with them for a short time, it's best to know what your goals are---to tell them your story? To read some poems and discuss? To have them write a poem? To analyze a poem? To compare a poem to a song? Trust me on this: There will be very little time for a lecture on the rudiments. ha....ha...
Shelley Chernin: Your friend is the creative writing teacher? Then I wouldn't attempt to teach or even to advise. Simply talk to them about what you do, what poetry means to you and how you integrate it into your life. You may be the only poet they've ever met.
Rachel Roth: I think perhaps you could discuss the writing process, maybe sources of inspiration. It would be great to share some of your favorite poets and poems, and ask about theirs. You could also discuss publishing options, self-publishing, promotion, and the local scene. I am so excited for you!! You'll do wonderfully and inspire lots of creative souls!
Kathleen D Gallagher: Good advice, Shelley. See what your friend WANTS you to do. But if you want to excite them about poetry....talking too much about yourself will not do it (as wonderful and talented as you are!). Even if they have never met a poet, they might not care if they ever do---until you show them WHY and HOW poetry can be rewarding. Rachel's ideas are cool too---but if they aren't prepared ahead of time to discuss the poems they like, they will mostly just stare at you. lol.
Kathleen D Gallagher: Do you have any video footage of your work? Incorporate some of your pictures....of you and other poets. Show them the world of poetry. Share a poem. Be you. But trust me on this: IF you have them write something...however brief---you will capture them forever.
A teacher can teach ABOUT writing. A poet can instill the love of it in them. Some do both. Most do not.
Mike Finley: I don't think of "being a poet" at all. This is about wonderful consciousness, not about a role or a hat you wear. Even if you're good you are only good every now and then. It's a humiliating business unless you shrug and accept the weird gift.
Kathleen D Gallagher: But show them your world, too. Pictures. Video. Sound. Maybe a handout of some cool poems to read. And one of yours in there, too.
The Teenage (R)evolution of Poetry, The Poetic (R)evolution Of Teenagers – James Kass talks about reading, writing, hearing and performing poetry with teenagers in Youth Speaks (the project he founded with the tagline 'the next generation can speak for itself')
have taught many poetry workshops and classes to teenagers and even elementary students AND poetry writing at the college level.
But....here is the most important thing: BE PREPARED to throw out EVERYTHING you plan into the garbage if a teaching/living moment happens. And you reach them naturally. And the second biggest tip: Go prepared anyhow in case that doesn't happen.
One last thing: You can bring in a series of questions that they might not think to ask and let them pick the questions to ask you (and that way you can prepare yourself ahead of time! ha....ha....).
Poetry is alive and well. Show them what you do. Bring your book and other writer friends' books. Show them pictures. Video. Here is a cool idea: Print up a poem for every student and put them in a hat or box. Let them pull a poem out of the box. That will be THEIR poem that you will give them. It might be amazing how it fits their lives.
Jen Pezzo: This is all wonderful advice. I'm tagging people in case they would like to chime in. I'd like to print these answers out to leave with the students and Geoffrey would like to include them on the Cleveland Poetics website.
Kathleen D Gallagher: IF you have time, go to the poets.org site and find poems suitable to teens. Copy and paste them into a document. Then print them out and make little scrolls to give them---tied with a ribbon. Teens love gifts. ha...ha....
Glenn Rose: Keats had it right - 'poetry should be kept up'. Continuity of poetry as extension/xploration of linguistic expression. My own instinctive touch-stone preferences [for wot that's worth] still largely 'past' poets - Donne, Hopkins, Eliot, Auden, Ginsberg, Snyder, Patten. That's not xhaustive, xcusive canon. Not sure whethr u talking w voluntary aftr-school or as visitr during school day.
But questions for high school -
- how much poetry have you read/do you know already [and do you LIKE it, or not - and whichevr, WHY (not)]?
- what role do you reckon it plays/will play in yr life?
'Poetry freaks' [and if u lucky, there'll be some] will want/need connexion w a community - and that'll be living poets [preferably local - sounds like a numbr where u r].
Th 'intrested' wld need some connexion made between th Orthodox Canon they've read in class [ah - being English, forgotten eg Whitman, Frost, Pound?] and current.
Th unintrested - well that's problem: depends on proportion yr audience ... but cld look @ eg 'literate' popular music [I thought/think Eminem rathr good - but he's passe now?]
Actually, don't envy you tho' xciting prospect!
[Apologies, far too long- just set me thinking ...]
Kathleen D Gallagher: I would finally say: Over prepare. Then figure it out when you get there. lol.
MIchael Salinger: That the skills learned from reading and writing poetry - precise and concise communication - are transferable to any occupation and all interactions with other humans. The deeper thinking that goes into communicating your ideas as well as listening and reading deeply the words of others is actual exercise for you brain.
Chuck Joy: Try this: poetry is the way to share the creation and appreciation of a beautiful line, line after line . . .