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Poetry Month: day 12

Today’s resource is one by our very own Starleigh Grass, who has served on the BCTELA executive a few times and who currently works for FNESC.

Starleigh wrote an article about using poetry text sets on social justice themes last year that is worth looking at again.  She shares a favourite unit on poetry.org on developing voice, and then suggests her list of poetry texts to adapt the voice unit to a more Canadian context.  She then briefly discuses ways in which poetry can be used as a path into inquiry.

Starleigh is a thoughtful and reflective writer and curriculum developer and I regularly enjoy hearing her perspective on complex subjects, such as the social justice topics listed in her post.  The texts she shares in this post are ones I would likely not have come across myself, and I am grateful for members of the BCTELA community like her for sharing.

Poetry Month: day 11

Slam poetry is often generated from a place of core feeling.  Not always, of course, but much of the compelling performance and slam poetry to be found online and at local poetry slams seems to originate deep in the speaker’s heart.

Because the topics are so close to the speakers, we often hear pieces about bullying, racism, and abuse and discrimination.  Provocative subjects, and powerful tools to hear about, process, and express issues of social justice.

I have just discovered Zaccheus Jackson.  He is a Blackfoot poet currently living in Vancouver.  He speaks about poverty and addiction, and the struggles of our society coming to terms with the history we share with first nations peoples.  His figurative language is wonderful (warning: he does use profanity).

On the subject of North American history, Alex Deng has piece titled “What kind of Asian are you?” which has been quite popular lately.  He’s from Portland, OR, but his voice resonates, I think, in BC.

When looking for slam poetry to play for you students always preview!  This is obvious to us teachers, but profanity seems to come hand-in-hand with difficult and provocative topics and more than once I have become excited about a piece to share with my students only to find that the last two minutes’ word choice push it beyond what I feel comfortable sharing with 6s and 7s.

I still love this form and these poets will continue to move me to tears regularly.

Poetry Month: day 10

I am introducing performance poetry to my students this week.  My plan is to give them a taste of an example and then move into two-voice poems.

I will introduce them to Shane Koyczan by showing them the first six and a half minutes of this,  and then I’ll hand out poems I’ve photocopied from a wonderful book by Paul Fleischman called Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices.  Because I want this to be an intro (and because I have limited time) I will give some of the shorter poems to some pairs but most I will give to groups of four and ask them to switch paired readers halfway through.

They will have the end of this first period and the beginning of our next to read through and practice their poems.  We will read them out to each other at the end of the second period…. unless they really want more time, then I might push it to next week and give them an extra period.  If I do give them more time I will likely do a second mini-lesson on performance speaking so that they have the tools to work with over the longer time-frame.

 

p.s. I found it harder than anticipated to find good, not too long, examples of performance or slam poetry that was acceptable and/ or engaging for an elementary audience.  If you know of a good source, please share!

Poetry Month: day 9

This week I taught my 6/7s about pantoums.  A pantoum is a structured poem, written in quatrains, with the repetition of particular lines creating a morphing effect in the voice.

Here is my Pantoum handout.

My students were not learning poetry terms with their classroom teachers so at the top of my handout there is some space for us to discuss and them to write down a short definition of a few terms which I them use in context for the rest of the lesson.
If you are unfamiliar with the formula of a pantoum, it is thus (from the handout):

line 1
line 2
line 3
line 4

line 5 (repeat of line 2)
line 6
line 7 (rep. of line 4)
line 8

line 9 (rep. of line 6)
line 10
line 11 (rep. of line 8)
line 12

(Continue with as many stanzas as you wish, continuing to make the 2nd and 4th lines from one stanza the 1st and 3rd lines of the next.  This continues until you get to the last stanza…)

Last stanza:
line 2 of the previous stanza
line 3 of the first stanza
line 4 of the previous stanza
line 1 of the first stanza

(So the first line of the poem is also the last.)

Once we had reviewed the structure, I read them some examples and we paid special attention to the repetition.  The third page of the handout is a blank frame, including the reminders of which lines are repeated where.  After a very difficult start for a number of students–choosing a topic, and finding rhyming words were a challenge–I allowed some of them to work in pairs.

Note: when a writer gets to line 6, after repeating his first line, he will often be worried that the poem isn’t going to make sense: line 5 (2) was written in the context of stanza 1, and therefore feels very weird as the opening to stanza 2.  That is how I felt when I first learned how to write pantoums.  They have to trust the form.  The writing of lines 6 and 8 will be guided by lines 5 and 7.  This is what creates the interesting wave-like development of the poem.

Will you try this with your students?  Have you already done it this year?  Do you have any favourite student poems?

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