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Poems about Poetry: 6 Poems that Introduce Poetry

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

I’ll start my poetry unit this year with poems about poetry to open up the conversation about the potential and power of words. These six poems explore the same questions that Baraka, Eliot, and Wordsworth have famously answered about the language of poetry.

Poets must capture the essence of a moment, an idea, or an emotion, and make it real to the reader, despite the obstacles that could get in the way of creativity and imagination. When they write, they open themselves up to criticism and the ultimate disaster, a lack of interest from the audience. Then the poem gets tucked away in a corner, into oblivion.

However, if a poet is successful, they have the ability to describe a place, large or small. A poem can represent the culture of a country or the little things in dining rooms and coffee shops that bring joy and pleasure. Something small like washing hair can represent something large, like freedom or family. Every detail in a poem is a miracle: some writers like Jack Kerouac take a few weeks to write a novel, and some poets like Elizabeth Bishop take years to write a poem.

Poetry challenges convention, and at the same time, the status quo. It both embraces the poetry of the past and forges a new style unique to the individual personality and experiences of the writer. Using little symbolic gestures, poetry encourages revolution and rebellion, and asks us to demand better, to not be satisfied with mediocrity. The politics and romance of poetry conjure up visions of places and relationships that work. Poetry takes hardship, grief, and suffering and transforms life into something we can manage and handle. It asks us to love each other better, by embracing our differences. Its asks us to imagine our national history, its mysteries, its injustices, its politics, its progress, and then asks us to imagine the county we’d like to live in.

The poet must use both poetic language and the language of everyday conversation; weave together assonance, personification, synecdoche, hyperbole, irony, consonance, metonymy, and alliteration, all while sounding natural and authentic. Every great poem sounds fantastic out loud, and on paper, forces the mind to do some mental gymnastics. It’s simple and complicated at the same time.

I love poetry for all the reasons my students probably hate it. I love when I have to think so hard that it hurts my brain and I love how poets play with language as much as they can and juggle images around like balls, so we become mesmerized by the patterns they form. Poets takes us in one direction and then we unexpectedly end up somewhere else and have to figure out why we are there.

A poem contains limitless possibilities and a whole universe to figure out. Great poems mean something different every time we read them. As our life changes, our experiences provide us with new interpretations of the same words.

Here are six poems (I cover them in this order) that should help your students get excited about studying (and writing) poetry:

Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins

A Small Moment by Cornelius Eady

Constantly Risking Absurdity by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Poem by Elizabeth Bishop

All Their Stanzas Look Alike by Thomas Sayers Ellis

Scott Cameron

English language arts teacher

Teacher's Workshop, professional development for secondary ELA teachers

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