Link: Connecting students to language through poetry

Interesting discussion here  by poet Dorothea Lasky about the role poetry could play in “teaching students about all forms of writing.”  I especially like these points:

All students can write, if we let them. The key, I think, is poetry.

As a poet myself, I have a love/hate relationship with schools. For the most part, schools have been a place for me to learn and grow. They’ve given me the chance to find readers of poetry and to connect with the poets of the past. I have found almost all my poetic brethren (dead poets who speak to me through their work) within a classroom setting.

However, because I am a poet, I am always searching for ways to change language. Schools are often a place for a certain sort of rigid language instruction, which can make them hostile environments for poets. Grammar and persuasive argument are essential skills for any student. But if someone is telling you that there is a set and finite way to construct a sentence — and you’re a poet — you will naturally get a little annoyed. And you will be justified in feeling this way, because it’s simply not true.

Nothing is more important to the future of humanity than the freedom to make new ideas. I would argue that the act of writing poetry is important for the creation of those new ideas.


In a book entitled The Having of Wonderful Ideas: And Other Essays on Teaching and Learning, Eleanor Duckworth explains that the most important thing a teacher can do is to give his or her students the space to have a new idea and feel good about having it. She argues that this is the key to intellectual development. I would argue that there’s no more natural space for a teacher to value a student’s idea than in a poem. Because in a poem, a student not only has the freedom to express a new idea, but to do so in novel language he or she has just created. More so than any other type of writing, a poem takes into account the indispensable dimension of well-chosen words.

Learning about poetry (how to read it, write it, and appreciate it) is an integral part of teaching students about all forms of writing. A poem is not just a place to present a student’s grammatical knowledge (in fact, it is often the space to subvert it!). Poetry, more than any other form of writing, trains students to take into account the style of language. This close looking and listening is crucial to writing well in any manner. It would be hard to say that any outstanding essay does not involve meticulous word choice or the ability to persuade a reader through sheer aesthetic prowess. Poetry teaches students how to do this.

9 responses to “Link: Connecting students to language through poetry

  1. Funny you would post this. I read the same article today.
    It’s of course totally subjective, but I think my writing improved tremendously when I began writing poetry.

    • I do like that poetry allows kids to not feel they have to follow the rules, but that they can make things up. Sometimes I notice my students writing things where I might find meanings they did not know they were making — once a student used the Business word-kit at to write a poem that sounded to me just like an analogy for a bad relationship, and he wasn’t sure why I started laughing, til I explained what I heard. That in itself is an interesting aspect of writing.

      • Yeah, finding another meaning I think happens quite often. It even happens to me sometimes, when I’m in a different mood, or come from a certain place, or had a certain experience and then read one of my own poems again, let alone somebody else’s. I discover new ways to read them or to read into them. It’s quite astonishing.
        I’d be curious to hear (read) sometimes how you as a teacher teach your students how to read poetry…though I write poems myself, I often can’t understand other’s poetry, and I space out while reading, because it goes nowhere in my head.

      • You know, I haven’t spent a lot (maybe not enough) time talking to students about reading poetry. The main thing I do is I assign them to look (in edited sources) for poems that interest them, under the theory that poems that interest them may tell them something about themselves as poets. At least, that’s been my experience. I don’t read a huge amount of poetry, and when I do, I try to approach each poem with full attention, but I don’t try to like, let alone figure out, each poem. A couple years back, a student showed me a poem she found, and she asked me whether I agreed with her in-depth interpretation of it, and I didn’t want to insult her effort, but I also didn’t want to say that she had to do that. I want students not to think too much, not to read a poem as if for literature class, but to read as a writer, think like the writer, in whatever way that’s possible. I have students copy by hand those poems they like for that reason.

  2. Passing this article along. Thank you!

  3. This hits home quite hard. As someone who writes mostly through poetry, I can identify with the inflexibility of schools. I feel like many put poetry in a neat box and forget it is more about expression than just the sonnets covered in their freshman classes.

    • I agree that too often, poetry is yet another thing to study, rather than something to do, to try. The first several times I ask my creative writing students to freewrite a poem, someone will ask, “Does this have to make sense?” I’ll answer “no” and it seems the room’s tension dissipates. After a few weeks of freewriting poems this semester, a student said about this policy, “sometimes I get used to that and I don’t make sense anywhere else,” which I was glad to hear.

  4. Pingback: I Am a Poet | My Blog

  5. Pingback: Submissions: A call for Essays by Immigrant Poets in America | Yareah Magazine. Arts and writing

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.