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Poetry study for reluctant poetry students

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My eldest son, 14 yo Aspie, and I have no interest in poetry study but I do feel that we should learn something about it. Due to his late reading we haven't done anything except read poems from a book in the Sonlight core we are using.


What resource would you suggest that would explain the basic forms of poetry like Haiku, or limericks, yet go into enough depth to help us learn how to understand and maybe appreciate poets like Yeats or the like?


I would like something that isn't a week by week study but by almost an encyclopedia, a reference to open when a topic becomes relevant.


Is that at all possible?



Jen in Oz

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A Kick in the Head by Paul Janeczko may be a good start as a reference for different forms of poetry. The rhetoric stage poetry section in The Harp and the Laurel Wreath offers a brief 4 pages of terms and then contains poems followed by a few questions about the poem. In the back there are answers to the study questions.




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Honestly, I find a lot of for student poetry to be rather dumb and useless (yes there are fun things) but real powerful poetry is for adults, it is not sweet and cuddly, it hits you smack between the eyes.


So my suggestion is two fold: first, read real poetry and tailor it to him. I would suggest for a boy to think about the Iliad, Odyssey and Aeneid My next suggestion is to leave off with the idea of "poetry study." Listen to the talk by Andrew Kern for more on this: http://www.societyfo...est/media-guest


For those poems above, I feel maybe just a taste of their beginnings would help lure you in:



Arms, and the man I sing, who, forc'd by fate,

And haughty Juno's unrelenting hate,

Long labors, both by sea and land, he bore,

And in the doubtful war, before he won

The Latian realm, and built the destin'd town;

And settled sure succession in his line,

From whence the race of Alban fathers come,

And the long glories of majestic Rome.


Achilles sing, O Goddess! Peleus' son;

His wrath pernicious, who ten thousand woes

Caused to Achaia's host, sent many a soul

Illustrious into Ades premature,

And Heroes gave (so stood the will of Jove) 5

To dogs and to all ravening fowls a prey,

When fierce dispute had separated once

The noble Chief Achilles from the son

Of Atreus, Agamemnon, King of men.


Muse make the man thy theme, for shrewdness famed

And genius versatile, who far and wide

A Wand’rer, after Ilium overthrown,

Discover’d various cities, and the mind

And manners learn’d of men, in lands remote.

He num’rous woes on Ocean toss’d, endured,

Anxious to save himself, and to conduct

His followers to their home; yet all his care

Preserved them not; they perish’d self-destroy’d

By their own fault; infatuate!


None of these are instantly easy to understand, none are sweet, but man, oh man what stories they begin. And I think though not instantly clear, they certainly draw me in.


Do note these may not be the best translations to read, I had to suffice with what I could find quickly on the internet.

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I heartily recommend Art of Poetry from Classical Academic Press. We've done about half the book this school year, and we've loved it from the first chapter. It wasn't what the kids were expecting from a poetry course at all, and they've really grown fonder of poetry in general. They feel like the have an active connection to it now. FWIW I only purchased the teacher edition. We read aloud from it, share the text, and make it conversation based.

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Part of my master's thesis was on versification in English and Latin, and I have a great deal to say on the subject of what people need to know about poetry. But much of what I wish the world would stop not understanding about poetry is explained in Stephen Fry's The Ode Less Traveled. Unlike me, Fry does not yell at anybody. You should have a copy, and you should seriously consider working through it one chapter at a time, trying your own hand at the exercises. And that recommendation I make independent of any consideration of homeschooling.


If I were teaching a full course of poetry at any level, it would be the coursebook. Even if I didn't teach directly out of it, I would end up returning to it again as a touchstone.


Now, there are other texts that I would recommend having on hand when you build a foundation of appreciating poetry. Robert Wallace's Writing Poems (I'm only familiar with the 2nd edition) is both congenial and profound. I picked it up at a campus book sale for two bits two decades ago and was like breaking dawn banishing the dark.


John Hollander, whose work is essential reading if you get any deeper into the subject of English versification, wrote Rhyme's Reason, an introductory text that explains many verse forms in poems written in those forms, so that what is happening on the prosodic level is also happening on the literal level of the verse. A lovely book.


While I understand Candid's zeal for the sublime of which poetry is capable, do not ignore or ever abandon the ridiculous, the frivolous, the childish modes that poetry takes. Someone, whose name I forget, once commented that no one loves poetry who does not love the cataloging of ship names in the Iliad. I wouldn't go that far, but for similar reasons I will assert that no one loves poetry who does not love nursery rhymes and limericks.

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On 4/5/2013 at 2:04 AM, Jungle Mama said:
What resource would you suggest that would explain the basic forms of poetry like Haiku, or limericks, yet go into enough depth to help us learn how to understand and maybe appreciate poets like Yeats or the like?

I would like something that isn't a week by week study but by almost an encyclopedia, a reference to open when a topic becomes relevant.

JMO, but I think understanding forms of poetry and then learning how to understand and appreciate poems are two extremely different subjects. The first (poetry forms) is fairly easy to teach or expose your student to. The second is hard; poetry is not something everyone connects with, understands or likes.

For understanding poetry forms:
Prose and Poetry is a series of very short lessons that simply and clearly cover:
part 1 = elements of literature
part 2 = figures of speech
part 3 = poetry

Each short lesson (1-4 pages long) has examples from classic literature. The poetry section first goes over the major aspects of poetry (sound, rhythm, stanza patterns), and then goes over 21 types of poetry (ballad, elegy limerick, haiku, free verse, ode, pastoral, etc.)

Because each poetry form is listed in the table of contents, this would be an easy resource to use like an encyclopedia with very short entries. OR -- although I know you said you weren't looking for a program that was a weekly study -- you could also easily do 2 lessons a week, informally, read them aloud together, taking about 10-15 minutes per lesson, and complete the book in about 26-28 weeks. Then you and DS would have learned the poetic elements and forms and be able to keep your eyes open for them in your other literature readings.

You might also find this very brief "History of Poetry" from Bibliomania helpful; each entry is a 2-3 paragraph summary of the major poets and type of poetry of that century.

For understanding poetry/appreciating poetry:
This is a whole different topic and, I think, much harder to address.

First, we can't "make" someone either understand poetry, or even like poetry. However, I think we CAN, through regular exposure, find some poems and poets we will connect with. For example, my poetry-disliking DSs really love the language of Lewis Carroll's "The Jabberwocky" and virtually memorized it just through enjoying reading it out loud several times.

Second, I don't think we can come to a place of understanding/appreciating poetry by just using a reference resource when poetry becomes the occasional relevant topic. Alas, I think it requires more work and more regular exposure than that if we want understanding and appreciation. Poetry works in a very different way from prose literature (fiction, non-fiction, essays, plays). While they ALL use similar tools (structure, and figurative language, for example), poetry is the least "direct" type of writing, is often about intangible subjects, and usually takes the most time and effort while reading.

Fiction is formed largely by plot, setting and character: plot makes a strong linear thread to follow through the work to understand what is going on; setting creates a clear picture of where you are; and well-developed characters make it easier to have emotional connection or buy-in. Essays and non-fiction are very logically structured with clear supports, which make them easier to follow and to agree/disagree with. Plays are even easier, especially if watched, as you can clearly SEE what is happening; but even if you are just reading a play, the large amounts of dialogue make it much easier to follow a character's thoughts, opinions and choices. Also, fiction, non-fiction, essays and plays are very expansive -- they have lots of room to use lots of words to clearly and specifically describe, narrate, persuade, or explain.

In contrast, poetry is highly suggestive: poetry relies on creating images through words, and the ability of first the author and then the reader to make connections and associations with those word-images -- two places where there can be a short-circuit. Also, poetry is highly compressed -- every word counts, and many words or phrases will have layers of meaning to unpack -- and we don't always have the background knowledge to know all that is packed into the words and allusions chosen by the poet, so again, another potential for missed understanding. In addition, poetry is highly structured, written in very exacting forms in which every syllable and every sound is being conformed to a pattern, yet still must not only retain meaning, but must be able to "soar" and make connections, suggest ideas, and help the reader see things in a new light. Even (good) free verse will have a type of non-traditional, internal structure, and will make use of sound and rhythm.

I honestly think that if you want to develop an understanding and/or appreciation for poetry, the way to do that is with regular exposure to poetry -- maybe once a week have a "tea and poetry reading" time -- AND, do a poetry study unit each year -- say, 1-2 weeks of poetry focus per semester -- in order to learn the tools of poetry to help you then be able to understand/appreciate. I found the 2 poetry units in Lighting Lit 7 (grade 7 literature program), and the 3 poetry units in Lighting Lit 8 (grade 8 literature program) to be helpful starting points -- although, unless you planned to use the whole program, I wouldn't recommend buying them just for the few weeks of poetry exposure.

The high school level Progeny Press guide Introduction to Poetry: Form and Elements is a great guide for understanding how language is working and how to focus on the poem and figure what is going on. It has three units; we did one unit, set it aside and did other literature; came back and did another unit and then set it aside; and then came back and finished the last unit. Or, you can do it all at once for a concentrated study of poetry.

No personal experience with this one, but it looks like it may be helpful: Blackbird & Company: Exploring Poetry. Here are sample pages. It is for grades 5-12.

To help analyze specific poets/works, you might check out the free online Sparknotes poetry guide.

For the weekly "tea and poetry", schedule 20-30 minutes, have a cup of tea or hot chocolate and a snack and relax, and you each read 1-2 poems out loud. Re-read a favorite line, point out where you saw figurative language that you thought was really cool, mention what line(s) were powerful or moving or meaningful to you -- but keep it light and "appreciative" -- something you liked about the poem. And then move on. Maybe some weeks make it fun with a theme: love poems for Valentine's Day; poems about a specific topic; humorous poems; Shakespeare sonnet day; etc.

We have 2 DSs who have had NO interest in poetry throughout -- however, we've still included poetry study every year, starting in middle school. Also, we don't beat the poem to death. AND, I worked hard to come up with a lot of poems I thought would make the poetry of more interest. I got the idea from Nan in Mass on this Board, who said her own sons liked narrative, so she started with more narrative poems. In this past thread, "Poetry", I posted how we incorporated poetry into our studies.

And, I have to add, honestly, that while I certainly don't hate poetry, I also don't choose poetry to read for pleasure. Poetry is hard work for *me*. Very worthwhile work, BUT, I have to be rested, prepared, and in the right frame of mind to go into reading poetry in order to appreciate it.

BEST of luck in finding what works best for YOUR family! Warmest regards, Lori D.


ETA: While I know you said you are not looking for a program that is a week by week study, I just looked at Silver Moon's suggestion of The Art of Poetry, from Classical Academic Press, and it looks super! It looks like it would be fairly simple to pull it out and do it once a week with tea and cookies and get both exposure to poems and understanding of poetry all in one, esp. if you do it in an informal way as Silver Moon mentioned she does with her children.

Edited by Lori D.
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Thank you so much for all your input. You have actually helped me feel enthused about studying poetry. The boy is off at an Airforce Cadet training camp today so I can't discuss it with him, but I will certainly having a look at the resources mentioned.


He has read the Iliad and the Odyssey but I think he read prose versions. I will have to find the original versions and see how he goes with it.


I must admit I really like how you have done poetry in your homes even if children were not enthused by it.


Just a question, when you say narrative poetry do you mean poetry that tells a story like The Man from Snowy River or Clancy of the Overflow by Banjo Patterson? (yes, in Oz, means in Australia! :-) )


Thank you,

Jen in Oz

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On 4/5/2013 at 4:33 PM, Jungle Mama said:
Just a question, when you say narrative poetry do you mean poetry that tells a story like The Man from Snowy River or Clancy of the Overflow by Banjo Patterson?

Not personally familiar with either of the poems you listed as examples, but, when I said narrative poetry, I meant poems that tell a story, in contrast to poems that are capturing a mood, exploring an intangible theme, or describing. In the formal definition of narrative poetry, the following types of poems are narrative poems: epics, ballads, idylls, and lays.

Specific examples of narrative poems (all of which, BTW, our DSs enjoyed):
- The Iliad (Homer)
- Beowulf (unknown)
- Goblin Market (Rossetti)
- Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Coleridge)
- The Landlord's Tale: Paul Revere's Ride (Longfellow)
- The Charge of the Light Brigade (Tennyson)
- The Walrus and the Carpenter (Carroll)
- The Raven (Poe)

Hope that helps! Warmest regards, Lori D.

Edited by Lori D.
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There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around

That the colt from old Regret had got away,

And had joined the wild bush horses - he was worth a thousand pound,

So all the cracks had gathered to the fray.

All the tried and noted riders from the stations near and far

Had mustered at the homestead overnight,

For the bushmen love hard riding where the wild bush horses are,

And the stockhorse snuffs the battle with delight.



This is the first stanza from The Man from Snowy River by A B "Banjo" Paterson. This was later made into a movie with Siegrid Thornton and some other Aussie hunks. If you are doing Australian poets Henry Lawson is another one with great stories. The Loaded Dog is fun.


Thanks for the recommendations. I will check them out.


Best wishes

Jen in Oz

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