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Discovery of Poetry

Updated: May 2


Written by Elise Albrecht

Important occasions–weddings, graduations, funerals, even protests–are often marked with the recitation of a poem. While poetry marks the celebration of so many significant moments, not often is poetry widely celebrated and enjoyed for the sake of itself. Most adults would struggle to name a contemporary poet living and writing today, and when you ask children what they know about poetry, the most common response is that “it rhymes.”


Each April, the Academy of American Poets hosts National Poetry Month to highlight the pivotal role of poets and poetry in American culture. 


For teachers of writing, this is an opportune time to bring poetry into the classroom. When children are exposed to new poets and poems, they are typically enthralled by the discovery that poetry has so few rules and can take so many different forms. Poetry can be found in almost anything, and it’s meant for everyone.


The poem on the poster for this month is "blessing the boats" by Lucille Clifton. To



kick off a short unit of poetry in my classroom, I like to fold up the first poem we are exploring until it’s pocket-sized. I pass it to kids like I’m passing them a special note meant only for them. I let them unfold it and read it on their own first. Then, they close their eyes while I read it to them a couple times. I ask them to tell me everything they remembered about or sensed coming from the poem, and they glean a lot more than you might guess from listening.


One student told me that he imagined a "big giant fish named innocence eating him, but then spitting him back out to sea where he became like a boat bird fly-sailing on the water

wind." Another said they imagined themselves on the deck of a boat on a beautiful, peaceful ocean until a wave tossed them off and pulled them into shore, but then the wind swam back up to them and kissed them! And another said they imagined summertime: warm, sunny weather and a big yacht getting its sails ready for the ocean. For students, the beauty of reading poetry is that all these different interpretations can be true at the same time.


Earlier we had sketched some of the images in isolation, helping students to envision what is actually happening in the poem. Students’ final task was to combine the images they saw in the poem into one complete picture:


Their "homework" was to fold the poem up and carry it around in their pocket to think about, and then share it with someone else. This poem is an especially good one for a first exposure: the speaker in the poem addresses you directly, which helps students realize that this poem definitely has a message for them as they sail through life.










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