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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Teaching Poetry Writing

I teach at a large university famous for petroleum engineering, agriculture, and business. Our English department is highly ranked and offers an MA and PhD.  A graduate student can write a creative MA or PhD, with a critical introduction.

At my school, most of my students are not fond of poetry. Many reasons exist for this. One is the way poetry is taught in high school. Another is that poetry makes many of them feel stupid. They lack, many of them, the cultural references and the reading comprehension skills to understand it. What many of them consider poems are those inspirational statements you find on the internet, print out, and put on the fridge with a magnet.

How do I teach such students to write poetry? I've found that they tune out and completely ignore any statements I make about what makes good poetry, and just go ahead and write how they feel at the moment. So, to save myself a bad stomach ache and a batch of low grades, I make them do certain things and then take off points for not doing it.  I get very structured. The must write on a childhood experience, the must use a reminiscent narrator and tell a story, they must write in haiku stanzas, etc.

I get much better poems this way. I enjoy what they write and can give them some (not all) specific reasons why they got points taken off.  This is what a generation rasied on standardized tests can handle.

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