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Teaching Poetry: Blog 4

By Brooke Davis, Spring Program Intern

During our last session together, the kids did what we called a “brain dump,” where they got all of their unedited thoughts and ideas down on paper.  Week four was about taking those ideas and revising them until they turned into poems.

For some writers, revision is the easy part because the words are already there, in all their inarticulate glory.  However, many consider revision to be the bane of their existence.  They have to take their words, cut them down, change them and add new ones to the point of becoming so frustrated that it feels like it’s time to scrap the piece altogether.  If that doesn’t sound daunting, maybe it should.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start.  So, I asked my students to put their pencils aside and think of a few questions that might get them going.  For example: What kind of tone do I want?  Did I use any examples of figurative language?  Did I give a clear description using my five senses?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, and poems don’t have to use any of the above-mentioned strategies.  Some writers would ask entirely different questions.  But for people who struggle with figuring out which direction they want to go in, the basics are a good place to start.

After my students thought of their answers for these questions, they had a better idea of what they wanted their poems to accomplish.  Then, it was time to go back to their drafts and read them over to see if their poems were already doing what they wanted them to do.  In most cases, they weren’t.

Knowing exactly what you want to say is a big step in the right direction.  After that, it’s a matter of cutting out anything that works against what you think your poem should be.  A lot of times, the idea is already there, buried somewhere.  It’s just a matter of mercilessly hacking away 90% of your hard work to find it.

July 8, 2014
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