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Poetry Writing Inspired by Shakespeare – Moving beyond the Sonnet

While Shakespeare is well known as a sonnet writer, anyone who has studied any of his plays, knows he had a few more poetry tricks up his sleeves. So, each year as my students study Romeo and Juliet, we notice his poetic language and use it to inspire our own poetry writing. The following are just a few of the poetry freewrites and prompts we experiment with together.

Two-Voice Poems:

When Romeo and Juliet first meet, they speak to each other in a two-voice sonnet. After we spend some time discussing the back and forth of this conversation (and the implications for their budding relationship), we look at other two-voice poems for additional inspiration.

One of my favorites to study is Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye’s “When Love Arrives.” In this poem, Sarah and Phil go back and forth, sometimes overlapping voices, to describe the different phases of love and relationships. It is a great model to watch and notice how they crafted their delivery to enhance the poetic meaning. Students also notice and discuss the contrasts between the relationship described in this poem and the short lived relationship between Romeo and Juliet.

Another great resource is Paul Fleischman’s book Joyful Noise: Poems for two voices in which he writes poems from the perspectives of various bugs that are meant to be read by two voices – “sometimes alternating, sometimes simultaneous.” We use these poems to practice reading two voice poetry.

Then, I invite my students to partner up and craft their own two voice poems.

Finally, we spend some time sharing and celebrating the poems they created with a low-key poetry reading.

Poetry to Express Strong Emotions – Love and Hate:

When Romeo first sees Juliet he is overcome with love (lust) and expresses this strong emotion through figurative langauge:

And a few scenes later, when he returns to see (stalk) Juliet, he again expresses his strong emotions with figurative language:

After noticing these models and finding a few additional examples, I invite students to make connections to their own lives by first thinking of someone (family, friend, pet, teacher, etc.) they really like/love. Then we spend time describing them poetically using Shakespeare’s language and the following sentence stems for inspiration:

Conversely, in Act 3, after she learns Romeo killed her cousin Tybalt, Juliet reacts with anger as she describes Romeo:

While these feelings of hate are short-lived, they provide a great example of how we can express similarly strong emotions through poetry. So, I ask my students to think of someone that causes them to feel these kinds of negative emotions (with the warning that they keep it anonymous if it is someone we might know). Then, using Juliet’s words and the same sentence stems as before, we write figuratively about these people. Interestingly, this writing tends to flow for students a little more freely than the poetry we write about the people we love. Here are a few examples students posted this year (as we had to take this writing conversation virtual):

  • My dad is the pale blue of the sky on a cloudless day. He is calm and cool and comforting.
  • She is a dark gray – almost black, like the rain cloud she carries over her head.
  • My stepmom is a snake, slithering around hissing commands at everyone she passes.

Found Poetry:

Shakespeare’s writing is also great for finding poetry. While this can be done with any soliloquy or monologue from the play, I direct my students to focus on finding poetry in Juliet’s speech about night at the beginning of Act 3, Scene 2. Before we read her soliloquy, I ask students to brainstorm a list of their own associations with the word NIGHT. After we discuss and compile a class list, we read and mark the text – paying attention to any place the word or idea of night is expressed.

Finally, we use the marked text to craft our own found poems about night. I keep the instructions for this writing simple as I guide students towards first considering what meaning about night they might want to convey, then encourage them to take their own poetic liberties with combining found words and phrases with their own to create a poem. Here is an example of a poem that was written, polished, and shared last year:

While I certainly feel inspired by National Poetry Month and Shakespeare to ramp up my integration of poetry reading and writing with the current curriculum, I try to blend poetry into our units of study as much as possible throughout the course of the school year. What are some ways you blend poetry into your teaching? What other texts provide great inspiration for poetry writing?

Kelly Virgin

Kelly Virgin teaches English for the Kennett Consolidated School District and has been a PAWLP teacher consultant since 2010. She is a proud bookworm and loves sharing her passion for reading and writing with her students.

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