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Celebrate with Poetry! Plus a Treasure Chest of Poetry Books

by Lynne R. Dorfman

A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language. 
~W.H. Auden

It is sometimes hard to define something, even when we feel we know it fairly well. Emily Dickinson, once confided in a letter, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”   We might offer these ideas: Poetry is a story, the painting of a scene, a thought, a small moment in time. The trouble is that most dictionary definitions of poetry are dry, limiting, and vague; and so we are left scratching our heads.  What, then, is this magical writing that has such power and range, capable of ever-renewing our spirits?

Like other forms of literature, poetry may tell a story, convey ideas, or offer vivid, unique description – sometimes, all within the organization of a single poem.   Sometimes, poems express our spiritual or emotional states.  Regardless of purpose, poetry makes every word count: their sounds, textures, patterns, and meanings create a verbal kind of music.  When we hear a poem, we may recognize certain patterns with effective repetition or a series of rhymes.   We hear a beat.  We want to read the words aloud.

I offer a rationale for using poetry across the day.  Poetry easily finds a home in all areas of the curriculum.  Feed your students and your own children and grandchildren  with wonderful poems. Encourage them to write poetry as a response to reading, in their writer’s notebook, and for simple enjoyment.  You will find that your students will begin to see things in new ways and learn how to find the extraordinary in ordinary things!  Here is a list of why we should offer poetry to our children every day:

  • Children love the sound of language.
  • Poetry is a genre that has been a part of children’s lives since birth.
  • It can help us see differently, understand ourselves and others, and validate our human spirit and ability to empathize.
  • It is the great equalizer – a genre especially suited to the struggling or unmotivated reader/writer.
  • Poetry enhances thinking skills and promotes personal connections.
  • Reading poems aloud captures the ear, imagination, and souls of the listeners.
  • The playfulness of language and the ability of words to hold us captive with their intensity, beauty, and genius are particularly apparent in poetry.
  • Poetry helps to broaden children’s experiences.
  • Poetry can be the voice to claim and name the events we live through.
  • Poetry validates our feelings and helps us make sense of the events of our lives.
  • It gives us ways to gain new insights on old problems.
  • Poetry grants us a place of beauty.
  • Carefully selected poetry has the power to engage readers’ minds, and to elicit sensory reactions, passions, and intense emotions.

A Short Bibliography of Favorites for Reading/Writing Classrooms

Coombs, Kate. 2012. Water Sings Blue. Chronicle Books
Davies, Nicola. 2012. Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature. Candlewick Press.
Fleming, Denise.  2001.  Pumpkin Eyes. Henry Holt & Co.
Florian, Douglas.  2012. UnBEElievables. Simon & Schuster.
George, Kristine O’Connell.  2011. Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems. Clarion Books.
_______________ 1998. Old Elm Speaks: Tree Poems.  Clarion Books.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. (ed)  2015. Jumping Off Library Shelves. WordSong Press.
Janeczko, Paul B. Firefly July.(ed) 2014. Candlewick Press.
Lewis, j. Patrick. (ed) 2015. Book of Nature Poetry. National Geographic.
_____________(ed) 2012. Book of Animal Poetry. National Geographic.
McKissack, Patricia C.  2008.  Stitchin’ and Pullin’: A Gee’s Bend Quilt. Random House.
Paolilli, Paul & Dan Brewer. 2001. Silver Seeds. Penguin.
Salas, Laura Purdie. 2011. Books Speak! Poems About Books. Clarion Books.
Sidman, Joyce.  2014. Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold. Houghton Mifflin-Harcourt.
_____________2010. Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors. Houghton Mifflin-Harcourt.
_____________2010.  Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night. Houghton Mifflin-Harcourt
Vanderwater, Amy Ludwig. 2016. Every Day Birds. Orchard Books.
_____________2013. Forest Has a Song. Clarion Books.
Vardell, Silvia & Janet Wong. (eds) 2015. The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations (Children’s
              Edition): Holiday Poems for the Whole Year in English and Spanish. Pomelo Books.
______________2013.The Poetry of Science: The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science  for Kids.
Pomelo Books.
Worth, Valerie. 1994. All the Small Poems and Fourteen More.  Farrar Straus Giroux.
Yolen, Jane. 2000. Color Me a Rhyme: Nature Poems for Young People. Boyds Mills Press.

See Mentor Texts: Teaching Writing Through Children’s Literature (Stenhouse Publishers, 2007) for additional poetry books and ideas for writing poetry.

Lynne R. Dorfman profileLynne R. Dorfman is a Co-director of the Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project. She believes that attending her 1989 summer institute on the teaching of writing was one of the best things she ever experienced as an educator. It changed the way she thought about writing, reading, and learning forever!


One Comment Post a comment
  1. Eric Prestianne #

    I didn’t like poetry when i was younger, but in high school I started to write some on my own as an outlet. I continue to today, and in my undergrad added a creative writing minor, had a few poems published, and spoke at a university wide poetry reading.

    I think poetry, and creative writing in general, is imperative to the development of students critical and creative thinking processes, and incorporating it in lessons can only have a positive outcome, especially by making the requirements open and unrestrained to their thoughts. Today, there are so many outlets available to them with the use of the internet, and starting and introducing poetry to the classroom, mainly alternate or non canon poets, can be extremely beneficial all around.


    April 26, 2016

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