Six Ways to Experience Poetry

Getting students engaged in a topic means approaching it in new and innovative ways. Poetry is no different. Once your students know how to analyze poetry on their own, you’ll want to make sure that they have plenty of opportunities to experience poetry in its many forms.

Read some funny poems.

Yes, I know that everyone loves Shel Silverstein, but he’s not the only poet to craft funny lines. “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams and the hilarious parody of that poem, “Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams” by Kenneth Koch are two of my favorite poems; both deal with everyday selfishness, snark, and love. “One Perfect Rose” by Dorothy Parker is a great poem to showcase the witty, bitter, and wonderful poet; it’s also a great poem to make fun of what makes bad cliched poetry so painful to read. There are funny poems for every different kind of humor.

Engage in a Haiku-off.

Also known as a Haiku battle, this is a fun way to experience poetry with friends. (One of my favorite Haikus, which also qualifies as funny poem: “Haikus are easy / But sometimes they don’t make sense / Refrigerator.” ) I once engaged in a haiku battle via Facebook messenger, but any medium will work. Just send a challenge to a friend, and make sure that it follows the five-seven-five rule of Haikus: “Hey there, you, what’s up / Let’s get together to write / Some Haikus, okay?"

Imitate your favorite poem.

Taking some of the structure and original words of a poem but making it your own is a great way to dip your toes into some actual poetry writing. (Think: make-your-own Madlibs, poetry style.) My favorite poems for imitating are “Let America Be America” by Langston Hughes, “Fear of Overshoes” by Anne Sexton, and that aforementioned William Carlos Williams poem, “This is Just to Say.” So I might take Hughes’ statement of “Let America be America again” and change it to “Let birthday parties be fun again” or “Let family time be screen-free again.” You can use as much or as little of the words of the original poem as you need.

Watch some contemporary poets read their work.

Youtube is great for many things besides watching cats fall off of TVs. Two of my favorite poets to watch are Brian Turner, a veteran of the Iraq war and Sharon Olds, whose odes to common things are especially beautiful, smart, and hilarious, and irreverent.

Find a classic and dust it off a little.

The classics are classic for a reason—they deal with themes and questions that are relevant to any reader today. My favorite old poems that make me question my life today are Shakespeare’s sonnet “[That Time of Year Thou Mayst in Me Behold]” aka sonnet 73, which deals with death and old age and metaphors.

Read some poems that challenge you to get up and do something.

Doing something might mean political action, it might mean realizing what you are grateful for, or it might mean going outside to feel the wind on your face. My favorite poems that challenge me to get off the couch and start acting are Emily Dickinson’s poem “[Much Madness is Divinest Sense],” Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day,” and just about anything that Langston Hughes has ever written. The most important piece to engaging your classes in these fun ideas is to let them see you having fun as well—so write that Haiku, create your own poem imitation, or get outside and appreciate some nature with your students.