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The Poet's Suitcase



If we want students to view poetry books with a sense of enthusiastic anticipation we need to alert them to its potential. If we want students to have an answer to the question “ And tell me, who is your favorite poet?” then we must expose them to the world of poetry and its various forms.

In exposing our students to poetry we need to let them hear poetry, see poetry and feel the impact that poetry can have on the reader and listener. When we take this approach, students will begin to develop personal tastes in poetry. They will speak with authority about their preferred poets; their preferred styles. They will begin to truly know poetry.

In The Beginning…
When beginning this journey I frequently conduct a workshop where I provide a poetry taste test for students to sample a range of poetic forms. I present a feast of favorites, a smorgasbord of stanzas from which curious readers may select.

The Poet’s Suitcase

To facilitate this poetry tasting I bring my poet’s suitcase into the classroom, the library, wherever we meet. My battered old suitcase, also known as my poet’s play-station is packed with a broad range of poetry books and poetry audio tapes, CD’s along with an assortment of artifacts and other strange treasures that connect to the suitcase collection.

Inside these special books students will discover poetry that will hopefully make them smile, or laugh out loud. -Poems that are serious and thought provoking. -Poems that present as weird, whacky and nonsensical. –Poems that are short, and poems that are lengthy.-Poems that rhyme and poems that don’t. In essence, they are exposed to broad spectrum reading of poetry.

Before we set about exploring the assembled books, I refer to some of the books, share a couple of my personal favorites with an animated reading, and connect some of the collected artifacts to particular poems. Then I set the students loose; allowing them to carefully browse the books. Their task is to find a poem they could read to a partner, a small group or the whole class. At this point I rove the room guiding students, supporting their decision making processes, and assisting them to remain focused on the task.

I also encourage students to bring in their poetry books from home. The aim is to expose them to a plethora of poetry.

Over the next couple of workshops I ask students to add their self selected poem to an anthology. I ask them to rewrite it on the computer or scribe it in their best handwriting. When this task is complete, I ask students to practice reading their poem so that they will have the opportunity to consider the needs of their listening audience.

I continue to model the reading aloud of poetry. I choose carefully, selecting poems that inspire and entertain me personally. I want my students to be exposed to models of enthusiastic reading. The focus then moves to sharing the poems the students have been preparing. – Let the sharing begin!

Following the sharing, we work on organizing a display of our chosen poems. As an alternative I sometimes gather the poetic pieces into a class anthology.

A logical extension of this introductory approach is for students to develop their very own anthology of poems. Everything that has taken place up to this point in time has been directed towards immersing students in poetry. They have been dipped in and pulled out. They are soaked in the beauty of the poetic form. Hopefully, they will now have a real ‘taste’ for poetry and a desire to create their own.

You don’t need a suitcase to hold your poetry. A fishbowl, a picnic hamper, a trunk- anything will do. The secret lies in unlocking the magic of poetry. -A chance to awaken within young readers and writers the power that poetry possesses.

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