The best way to enjoy poetry 

BESIDES fools and showers, April is also known for being Poetry Month.

As a Language Arts teacher, I am inevitably cornered this time of year by a few hover parents (better hover than absentee any day) and questioned with “How can I get my child to appreciate poetry?”

Glad you asked.

click to enlarge free_speech-poetry.jpg

I like to joke that if you want your child not to like a thing, insist that he appreciate it. It works every time.

Believe it or not, your child already loves poetry. Poems are the stuff of childhood.

Unfortunately, many teachers either wring the life out of it with snobby poem choices and stodgy teaching, or neglect poetry altogether.

If your child turns up his nose or scratches her head at the mere mention of the word poetry, let me share a few things I do in my classroom to help make poetry a lifelong love affair.

I try to recite, not read, a poem to sixth-grade class every day. Poems are born to be spoken, heard, and shared. Even if you’re alone, recite poetry. Aloud!

Books of poetry are scattered throughout my classroom—books with poems concerning everything from football to babysitting. I frame and display poems that are class favorites; they are, after all, works of art!

You can do the same at home, even if it’s just jotting down a few lines of Kipling and posting it on the fridge.

A middle schooler need not shelve class clowns such as Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky and replace them with Byron and Yeats. (I do sneak in the occasional Dickinson and Frost as a touchstone for high school.)

My students always seem amazed when I play a popular song and project the lyrics on the board. They realize that songs are actually poems set to music. (Albeit, the songs most of my students listen to I’d just as soon set on fire.)

Thanks to the web you can easily find the lyrics to any song nowadays and print them out. Paul Simon’s “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” is a favorite with my students.

It’s also a great idea for kids to listen to poems their peers are producing. Go to TeenInk.com for kids “spitting out rhymes.”

But even better is Poetry Out Loud.com. Let your child watch top high schoolers from across the country compete for the national title in recitation.

My favorite, hands down, bar none, is former champ William Farley reciting “Danse Russe” by William Carlos Williams. It gets darker and deeper every time my students and I watch it. Check it out.

I never grade anything when it comes to poetry. I try not to analyze every line. Poetry can’t be measured or graded. Just watch “Dead Poets Society” if you don’t believe me.

Poetry can only be felt, or then again, not felt at all. A student will find what appeals to him.

So, keep it fun for now. Love and grief, as it will, can come later.

Or, as Oscar Wilde once said, “Life is too important to be taken seriously.” Follow this advice, and dare I say, your child might appreciate it.


Mark Lawton Thomas is both a former Connect Savannah columnist and local teacher. He now teaches Language Arts in Augusta, Ga., and is the author of the best-selling children's book When Farts Had Colors.


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Mark  Thomas

Mark Thomas

Mark Lawton Thomas is both a former Connect Savannah columnist and local teacher. He now teaches Language Arts in Augusta, Ga., and is the author of the best-selling children's book When Farts Had Colors.


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