On Teaching Poetry

I am sharing a video by the Academy of American Poets featuring Naomi Shihab Nye, a poet whose work I like quite a lot. This video focuses on Nye’s comments about teaching poetry and the difficulty of poetry. Much of what she says in this video resonates with me both as a poet and a full-time English instructor at a college. When I taught creative writing in the past, I’ve had students groan about having to write poetry, and when I come to the poetry unit in my literature courses, I have countless students who think that they can’t get or understand poetry. I have had my own theories on why this is, and some of my students have confessed to me that their experience with poetry in high school was reduced to dissecting meter on a black board, as though poetry is a math equation that needs to be solved.

Nye brings up another point, however, that I think is true. She states, “Something happened with poetry a while ago where it became a measurable thing. You either get it or you don’t get it.” She stresses the importance of sweeping that idea under the rug in the classroom and creating an environment where love for poetry is known and welcome. She also recommends allowing students to bring in poems that resonate with them and talking for a few minutes about why they love the poem so much.   Furthermore, she recommends playing audio clips of the poets reading their work. This is something I do in nearly all of my classes. I have noticed time and time again that when students can hear a voice and associate that voice with the poem, they relate to the poem more. Sometimes, it makes the poem easier for them to understand, too. Though this is a short video, there is a lot of good feedback in here regarding teaching, creative writing pedagogy, and teaching poetry.

Here is the video. Enjoy!

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