poetry & revision

I fell in love with poetry this summer, spending summer nights in the West Village Bowery Poetry Club listening to Carlos Andres Gomez bring the house down with spoken word.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdHWVlpBGiY]

Carlos wasn’t the first time I fell in love with poetry; in fact the first unit I was ever proud of as a teacher, was a poetry unit I did at Benchmark School using the book Bronx Masquerade. Drew McCorkell & I were quite the team, teaching kids to write with passion and encouraging them to take risks as writers.

Then there is now, in my classroom. I’ve been working with kids, watching them craft poetry in their journals. Sometimes they sit there, scribble down a few obviously unheartfelt lines, close up their journal and claim they are done. My blood begins to boil; I’ve taught them to revise, to reflect, to dialogue; why are they doing this to me?

And then I realize, poetry is different. It’s not always safe to share and revision happens differently. I would have to teach my kids how to spend time with a poem, revisit it, and clarify the poem to make their message clear and yet still have that foggy quality that only poetry can have. As I started thinking, I realized I don’t often do these things in my own poetry, and I wasn’t sure how authors did it either. So with the help of my kids and authors like Ralph Fletcher and Sarah Kay, along with Katie Wood Ray and maybe a little Barry Lane, we came up with this helpful list for revising.

Here is our wall chart of Poetry Revision Strategies:

  • Star your favorite line.
    • Move that line to the top of your poem
    • Craft a new stanza after that line
  • Add in Similes and Metaphors
    • It’s a poet’s love language
    • It lets people connect
  • Take out words
    • Take out as many words as you can
    • Poets leave room for people to think for themselves
  • Line/ Stanza Breaks
    • Create drama and set a mood
    • Breaks say to the reader—think about that
  • Use Repetition
    • Draw attention to the importance of a line or phrase
  • Craft strong conclusions
    • Leave the reader with a feeling, image, connection, or question

I’m thankful that my classroom is a learning community and that we can create these lists and journey together. Initially, I wasn’t sure that they would go for these strategies, but after spending a year together taking risks they seemed thankful that we could take the mystery out of the process—bring it back to the familiar writing routine we loved— and allow the risk to be within the content only . I was thankful that I wasn’t going crazy, and that we had all remembered to revise, to reflect, to dialogue.

3 Replies to “poetry & revision”

  1. thanks for sharing your post, your love for words, creativity and carlos’s video 🙂

  2. Rachel,

    Thanks for mentioning our time with Bronx Masquerade. That was a special time and the kids really produced some meaningful poetry. Since then, that book has been a favorite of mine. Also, I am going to try to use your poetry strategy revising list with my students, I’ll let you know how it goes.

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