Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Great Lists for Teachers

Whoever is in charge of the Poetry Foundation's webpage--I should surf over and find out right now, but I'm feeling lazy, and a drip from the sump pump is driving me up the wall, so the sooner I'm out of this basement the better!


As I was saying, whoever is in charge of the Poetry Foundation's webpage has been busy for the last few months, and the page now goes from strength to strength. One addition I've particularly enjoyed, and one quite useful to teachers, is the string of annotated lists of poems they've been soliciting from poets, teachers, professors, and the like, with each title linked to the poem itself in their handy-dandy Archive. A few weeks ago they started up a new set of lists called the "Back to School Survival Guide," and although the titles of the lists seem aimed primarily at students (like Caitlyn Kimball's "Ten Poems To Read When You Get Stuffed in Your Locker" or "Ten Poems to Send the Person You're Crushing On," by Becca Klaver), every one is a Godsend to the teacher who needs something to teach and a lead-in to discussion.

Two lists in particular give you, the teacher, news you can use.

Karen Glenn has compiled a list of "Ten Poems to Get You Through Science Class This Year," and although her annotations are pretty slim--one or two sentences, and sometimes rather pat--I'm very glad to have some poems in mind to help me map the vexed relationship between Poetry and Science for my students. (The best such poem for teachers, I think, is Gary Snyder's "Earrings Dangling and Miles of Desert," which isn't anywhere on line, alas! It's a mix of prose and verse, a praise-poem for a plant (Artemesia) that incorporates serious biology, multicultural mythology, and smart free verse. You can find it in Snyder's Mountains and Rivers Without End, though, and also in the anthology American Poetry Since 1950: Innovators and Outsiders, where you'll also find good science poems by Ronald Johnson.)

The newest and best of the lists, though, just went up this week: "Ten Poems Students Love to Read Out Loud," compiled by the fabulous Chicago teacher Eileen Murphy. (I know Eileen--she was a participant in the first "Say Something Wonderful" summer seminar for schoolteachers--and can testify that she knows what she's talking about in the classroom. If you need more evidence, note that she's also coached the first two Illinois champions in the Poetry Out Loud national recitation competition.)

"Performing a poem can offer pleasures unlike any other experience of literature," Murphy writes by way of introduction. "But approaching a poem as a script for an oral performance demands that students pay attention to aspects of the work that they aren’t used to looking for." Each of the poems she chooses gets a solid paragraph of annotation, each keyed to a single question: "What can attitude tell us?" "What can images tell us?" "What can syntax tell us?" Good stuff. I think I'm the guy who introduced her to a few of these poems, and I'm pleased as punch to see the great use she's making of them in her classroom.

What poems does she choose? Go check them out, and tell me what you think. My own list ("Ten Poems I Love to Teach") should be up in a week or two.

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