Writing is a fabulous process of dipping into our souls and releasing all that chains us down.
I taught a lesson on ‘Tone in Poetry’ last week with my 9th graders. You can imagine the groans across the room when I announced that. They were required to fill in what amounts to a mad-lib.
I asked them to write down a list of various things: a color, a concrete noun, an abstract noun, an -ing verb, three adjectives, a place, an animal, etc. Then I gave them two stanzas of a poem with missing words. They had to plug in their words.
Laughter erupted around the room. “This makes NO sense!” some of them complained.
I told them, “Give your poem to the person next you and ask them what feeling they get when they read your poem.”
They did this, rather reluctantly. I stood back and watched as students informed the ‘poet’ that their poem was sad, or hopeful, or angry, or peaceful. The poets themselves were astonished and quickly reread their poems.
I said, “The point of poetry is to convey a feeling. The poem itself does not have to make sense. But if it made the reader feel something, the poem has done its job.”
One student, who recently broke up with her boyfriend, was upset that the tone of her poem was ‘depressing.’ I read her poem and told her, “Faith, this is a powerful poem you just wrote. Without even thinking about what you were feeling, you portrayed your feelings without once mentioning WHY you felt that way. That is empowering and healing, and you should write more of them.” She looked doubtful but agreed to do it.
“Now, decide if you agree with the tone assigned to your poem. Can you change some of your words to more accurately convey the tone?”
I love teaching this. That poetry IS accessible. That poetry IS powerful, that WORDS are powerful.
And more than anything, I love that these young kids, who thought poetry was stupid, light up and ask me, “Can we write more poems?”