Friday, April 12, 2013

Poetry Post #2: Artistic Expression = Students Love Poetry

In both my English and speech classes, students are working with poetry and completing a variety of projects. The big take-away from the work my students are doing is this: Artistic expression of literature, both the classics and contemporary texts, results in students loving poetry. That excites my geeky English teacher heart to no end.

My teaching partner, Debbie Greco, and I assign our seniors a "Poetry to Art" project. The link is to a Google doc, so feel free to use the project or components of it.

I first became inspired by a display of art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art inspired by the poetry of Emily Dickinson by the artist Leslie Dill, who uses Dickinson's words as inspiration for her sculptures. I've lost track of the details and images of the MET exhibit, but Dill's website I Heard a Voice: The Art of Leslie Dill has equally inspiring images of the artist's works. I really like the allusion to Dickinson's "I Heard a Fly Buzz when I Died" in Dill's website's name.

Debbie found the Cube Creator at Read Write Think, and we had our students choose the "Create Your Own" option. Even though we gave them step-by-step instructions, many students struggled with the assignment at first. As with most teachers, we struggle to make space for creativity with our ever narrowing curriculum.

Once the kids got the hang of the cube, many decided to decorate it, too, although this was not one of the requirements.

On the handout I included several images of art I found on the internet, just to give kids an inspirational boost. Debbie and I both created "art" last trimester just to get a feel for the assignment.

The heart of the unit, and the assignment that really helped students hone in on the poem's subtext, is the "rewrite." In my class, I wrote my poem in front of the class, which I often do for essays, too. I am uncomfortable writing original poetry, so it's really good for kids to see me sweating it out as I write. My original poem is "Eating Poetry" by Mark Strand.

We also asked the students to create a "Museum Placard" for their poem, and gave them freedom to get creative with this task, too. Here's my placard. I gave students a copy to use as a model and walked them through my process and thinking in writing it.

Ludo's Poetry to Art



In each class, we spent two days presenting the students' work. We followed this procedure:

1. Read the original published poem.
2. Discuss the poem, using the cube information.
3. Show your art to the class.
4. Present your original poem.

Overall, students did a fabulous job, although a few have yet to finish the art piece. Even so, I heard some fabulous poems, a couple of which I'll share.

Melissa used Margaret Atwood's" Backdrop Addresses Cowboy" as her inspiration. First, here's Atwood's poem:

"Backdrop Addresses Cowboy"


Starspangled cowboy
sauntering out of the almost-
silly West, on your face
a porcelain grin,
tugging a papier-mâché cactus
on wheels behind you with a string,r home with your eyes,
in pure serenity,
but we know better,

Here is Melissa's poem, which I am using with her permission:

"Fish Addresses the Scuba Diver"

Deep sea diver
sinking into the 
very cold depths, bubbles
trailing from your mask,
pulling your scuba gear 
and all its buttons on your back,

you are as fast
As a tortoise on a Sunday swim.

Your open eyes, your
gloved hands, and you
touch all living things in sight
as you move, they sway 
to the current and you watch them.

You leave behind you 
a trail of bubbles,
and stirred water,
disturbing the sea's peace
and the ocean's calm,
leaving a mark.

We should stay still,
and believe we are safe,
while you probe our home with your eyes,
in pure serenity,
but we know better.

Then, why should you care.

and who are we? 
The small fish
staring as you swim and ignor us

We are ignored;
we are not as big as the sharp-tooth, big-finned predator.

We are also around you,
in the dark of the sea,
broken by your breathy bubbles
and machines upon you back.
Your alien form ripples the water.

We are the almost invisible fish
you ignore, the disturbed unseen fish. 

In writing about Atwood's poem on her cube, Melissa identified a possible theme of the poem as the need for people to realize their affect on "organisms and people around them." She mentioned the line "I am the space you desecrate/as you pass through" as important to the poem's theme. 

One question on the cube is "Which line speaks to you?" Melissa chose lines 1-2 in the fourth stanza: "and you leave behind you a heroic/trail of desolation." Melissa says, "I really like this because it is a [sic] oxymoron and it opens my eyes to a new perspective." 

Another side of the cube allows students to pose a "big question." Melissa asks: "Do we affect the objects and beings around us?" She follows this with an answer: "We do and in more ways than we think and we should try to look around and see how we do and if it is positive or a negative influence." 

Melissa's Poetry to Art


On Monday students will complete the final part of the project, which is an in-class essay. This will be a reader response essay based on the students' personal connections to the poem. 

The opening lines of "Eating Poetry" read: 

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

We've been enjoying a heaping helping of poetry in my classes this month, and it's a serving of literature student love. How do I know? They have been telling me with words and art. Pass the poetry, I'm ready for another helping. 



1 comment:

  1. I can hear the buzz of students creating from here. I have a few books that connect poetry and art that I use as supplemental readings or pieces for analysis, but I never thought to blend each piece together. What a rich opportunity you've created for students. Thanks for sharing the Google document too.

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