The Exercise

Poetry Pro-Am is based on a writing exercise I was given in high school. We took a poem by a famous poet and wrote our own poems that imitated it in some way. We spent maybe a week of English class periods covering two poems that way, including a lot of teaching and discussion, and it was great.

My idea is to emphasize quantity over quality. Instead of two poems in five class periods, I’d like to try for five poems in two class periods. What I imagine is a session that goes like this:

  1. A facilitator passes out a poem to all the students.
  2. They spend 10-20 minutes writing their imitations.
  3. The facilitator then spends 5-10 minutes calling on kids who want to share what they wrote.
  4. The group moves on to the next poem.

I’ve made it easy for both facilitators and students by:

  • Finding a number of poems that should work well for this exercise and making them available for download from this website.
  • Arranging them in order from the easiest to the hardest.
  • Providing suggestions with each poem about how the student might imitate it.
  • Making the initial suggestions really easy. (e.g. “replace all the nouns with nouns of your own choosing”)
  • Securing reprint permissions for the poems. (TBD)

The facilitator shouldn’t need any special skills or training to administer this exercise. That means the facilitator can be an aide or a parent volunteer or even one of the kids in the group.

The students don’t need to be confident with their reading or writing, because I’ve tried to make at least the initial exercises very easy to do. Also, this is nothing like normal school work — students aren’t being asked to write essays about a poem’s Metaphors or discuss its Themes, and they aren’t even being asked to write real, original poems of their own — so it might just allow poetry to slip past the mental blocks of some kids and into their brains.