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Teaching Poetry: Blog 5

By Brooke Davis, Spring Program Intern

For the last day of my poetry residency at Northeast Elementary, I planned on closing out with a reading.  Everyone would stand in front of the room have a chance to show off their finished pieces, the way professional poets do.

However, some of the kids were reluctant to share their work.  While many were very vocal about their progress over the course of the residency, some hardly spoke at all, even with encouragement.  Lots of writers, at all ages and skill levels, are self-conscious about sharing their work.  Myself included.  When my mentor suggested that I share some of my own work to make my students feel more comfortable, I stuttered that I would see what I could find.

And of course, she was right.  I kicked off class by writing my own poem on poster board and reading it in front of the room.  Seeing me do it helped the ones who struggled with sharing be more forthcoming with their own work.

Another problem I think poets have with sharing their finished work is that they have a hard time saying with certainty that something is actually finished.  I’ve known writers to go back and edit work that has already been published, even though no one will ever actually see the revised version.  So, instead of running class like a final reading, we had a workshop instead.

Poetry and fiction workshops are the foundation of most creative writing classes.  Everyone sits where they can see each other, generally in a circle, and someone reads their work out loud so listeners can make comments about what they liked and suggestions to help the poet improve.

Conducting a workshop was a more relaxed way to close out the residency.  Reading their poems aloud helped them catch things in their work that they hadn’t noticed before, whether they wanted to change them or keep them.  Constructive criticism from the class helped them gauge their effect on an audience.

Rather than telling them to have their final drafts ready, I think having a workshop helps the students understand that writing is an ongoing process.  There is no rule about how many drafts make a good poem.  No one else but the writer can decide when a piece is finished, or if it will ever be finished.  The goal of the residency wasn’t to create something to be hung on the refrigerator and then set aside forever.   While poets should certainly know how to finish work, they cannot become poets until they are inspired to begin working.  Thus, the hope of the residency wasn’t to write poems, but rather to spark a desire to begin.  They become poets once they decide to continue their creativity outside of the classroom and let themselves grow and learn on their own.

July 8, 2014
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