Tuesday, April 28, 2015

National Poetry Month: Guest Blogger Elisabeth Swain

Thank you to Elisabeth Swain for the last National Poetry Month post for 2015. How quickly the month has gone. I hope you will find ways to keep poetry in your life throughout the year.

Lis Swain is a lover of words, has never been published, enjoys writing for herself, her children and her middle school English students, and hopes that you enjoy what she has written for you. 

Poetry In Motion: Middle School Students

My middle school students are poetry in motion.  As their English teacher, I have the high privilege of, over the few years that they are in my class, working with them to bring a little piece of that into the light.  I question them, praise them, play with them, instigate, and challenge them to be their truest selves.  And they do the same for me.

At the moment, my classes (grades 6-8) are all working on the poetry and plays of Shakespeare. They get on their feet, struggle through the speech, find firmer footing as they pay attention to the meter, and, finally, the ah-ha! moments come faster and faster as the worry of “doing Shakespeare” falls away.  In no time, they are biting their thumbs in the hallway, yelling lines from sonnets on the playground, and asking to do more. Music to my ears.

The poetry in this is also simple and quiet.  It is the twinkle in his classmates’ eyes, as the shyest student tackles the part of Bottom.  It is the giggle as a precocious student understands a naughtier pun. It is the speaking of complex lines that hold the most basic of truths.  “The course of true love never did run smooth.” They shake their heads in agreement.  Maybe Shakespeare isn’t so bad.

And then we move on, to the poetry of others.  To poems that inspire, like “Invictus”.  To a poem that baffles, delights and disgusts: “You Can’t Write a Poem About McDonald’s”. We talk about line breaks and rhyme scheme, tone, mood and figurative language.  Having faced the master himself, this doesn’t seem as daunting. 

Through it all, they remind me that every moment counts when you are reading and writing poetry, and each must be relished.  Each sotto voce, “Nice,” when the line is well spoken means more when you are thirteen.  Even a slight grimace on my face when a cliché pops up, as it inevitably will, will be noticed and must be caught before appearing.  The poetry inside them becomes the poetry before them as they work to translate their own truths onto the paper. 

Most often, when I answer that my work is to teach middle school students, I get a pat on the arm and a, “better you than me.”  Yes!  Much better me!  I cannot imagine looking at these students, so full of life and drama, and not feeling lucky to be a part of their becoming who they are.  Next time you see a middle school student take a moment.  Look past the bravado, the insecurity, the sturm und drang, and see them as they are in this moment.  A poem just waiting to be written.

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