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5 Poems to Start the Year

5 Poems to Start the Year

I love to start the year with a month of poetry. The unit gives students the time to read the first novel independently and it functions as a symbol of all that language can do. Poetry contains all the techniques that make language beautiful: rhyme, metaphor, symbolism, parallel structure, enjambment, stanzas. I start with poems that play with the conventions of language and poems that pay homage to them. First, we listen to poets read their poems out loud because sound is how poetry got started and why people still love it. It’s pleasing to the ear and explosive to the mind.

Here are five great poems to start the year:

“Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

Uplifting and positive, it’s all about overcoming stereotypes and criticism.

“Invictus” by William Ernest Henley

Another inspiring poem about free will, independence, and how to deal with suffering.

“Ode to the Clothesline” by Kwame Dawes

This poem should encourage students to think symbolically and find the meaning in everyday experiences.

“The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop

Another highly symbolic and immersive poem, Bishop likes to see things through a magnifying glass.

“The Motive for Metaphor” by Wallace Stevens

This challenging poem is about the confusing intersection between consciousness, reality, and imagination. Ultimately, we create metaphors to transform the world as we know it.

All these poems extend beyond the individual speaker. They ask the reader to consider their own experiences and perspective. We read poetry, we exercise our imagination to create our own world, our own space where anything is possible, even if our means of expression sometimes falls short. Poetry makes the ordinary extraordinary. The world is confusing, so is poetry, so embrace your confusion, let it dangle in the air for a minute. Only then will things become clear.

The best part of the poetry unit is not the thesis that comes out of a poem, it’s the conversations about what the poem could mean. It’s the notes in the margins of the poem, the fragments of thoughts that lead to the truth. It’s the poem that a student writes after reading a bunch of great poems, where they take a deep breath and let it rip.

Scott Cameron

English language arts teacher

Teacher's Workshop, professional development for secondary ELA teachers

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