In the past several years for National Poetry Month, I focused my teaching on different forms of poetry. We would learn about a new form every day, usually following the alphabet. This method gave me a structure to teach within. I learned forms, too, that I hadn’t tried. Some students would try to predict which form we would learn each day.
I still remember the day I got out of the way, and my students created an amazing kyrielle about kindness following the Sandy Hook shootings. Form can be a puzzle that leads to deep thinking, problem solving, and creativity.
This year, however, I made a decision to use prompts and free choice for writing poems. Forms were optional.
What emerged was fascinating. Each student found a form on their own. And forms spread from student to student. The use of form was like a magnet drawing them in.
Tobie became interested in writing list poems. He read The Popcorn Astronauts and created three different list poems. He found it fun and easy. This is my favorite:
In my Room
I cleaned my room
and what I soon discovered
was enough to make you sick
1 rat family
2 family portraits
3 plastic limbs
4 bowls of ice cream
5 pairs of dirty socks
6 ounces of dirt
7 tiger cubs
8 bags of sunflower seeds
9 sticky lollipops
10 rotten oranges
11 empty soda cans
12-year-old candy canes
13 baby teeth
14 overdue assignments
And a 15-foot-pile of garbage
I find myself being drawn to form as well. I am writing a verse novel, and while most of the verses are free verse, when I am stuck for how to approach a scene, form is a go-to that helps get me through. I was struggling with how to write about my MC’s aunt in a way that would be endearing but also show her quirkiness. After a few tries, I turned to the Ode. Here is a preview from “Hope is our Song.”
Ode to Aunt Dotty
Dearest Aunt Dotty, Mom’s older sister
smells of Jungle Gardenia perfume.
A zest for life
and Never met a stranger
are mottos of my favorite aunt.
Aunt Dotty hugs you like a downy pillow
holding on far too long.
Mom calls her a motormouth.
She talks nonstop.
How does she know just what to say?
Without skipping a beat, Aunt Dotty will pass
you the ketchup before you ask.
With the best of intentions, she crocheted
A prayer shawl, for your sweet friend Simone
To soften her suffering.
The shawl’s as ugly as an old dog’s fur,
with colors found only in mud,
but Aunt Dotty’s gardenia
lingers on each stitch,
so love is the message she gives.
–Margaret Simon, all rights reserved
Form can be a savior of sorts, a path to finding the words you want to say in the best way you can. Rather than stifling creativity, form can actually free the writer. Finding the right form is like finding the right book; each student will find his/her way with the form that is just right.
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