Recently some friends of mine from Brookline High — Mary Burchenal and Ric Calleja — were interviewed in the Boston Globe about whether poetry is starting to disappear from schools. I don’t really know, but I sure hope not. In lots of classrooms I visit, poetry is certainly a part of the curriculum.
But I had a thought recently, that as a teacher, I rarely showed my students many real or fictional modern poets, even though we read poems. I didn’t realize until recently that my classroom collection has been woefully short on characters and authors who choose to write and read poetry. I have lots of journalers, some journalists, and the occasional fiction writer, but not enough poets. Lucky for me, a spate of great options have appeared lately to add to classroom libraries or stashes of text samples for minilessons.
On the fiction side, two very different options:
The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy, by Kate Hattemer
In order to protest a reality-TV show being filmed at their prestigious art school, Ethan and his friends (and his gerbil, a bit of a hero himself) decide to save their school. In order to do so, they decide to write a vigilante poem a la Ezra Pound to get the student body on board. I like to think Pound would have loved to be just this sort of inspiration.
Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets, by Evan Roskos
James Whitman, a teen who struggles with anxiety and depression, loves Walt Whitman, and so tries to adopt Whitman’s spirit in his own life. Threaded throughout with Walt’s words and James’s poetry-esque descriptions of his experiences, this book has many elements, including family struggles, a crush on a girl, and a protagonist who doesn’t always connect.
On the nonfiction side, a book I doubt I’ll forget:
how i discovered poetry, by Marilyn Nelson; illus. by Hadley Hooper
This verse memoir, consisting of sonnets that don’t rhyme, paints the story of Nelson’s military family moving around America during the 1950s. Personal experiences and connections to civil rights news of the day combine to tell a powerful and somehow also quiet story about using words to tell stories.
I can’t wait to use these titles in a variety of ways with students and teachers, and I’d love to hear other ideas of texts that feature poetry or writing generally as a central theme!