Friday, April 01, 2005

Poetry Tournament
March Madness comes on strong here in North Carolina. To capitalize on the energy, I planned a tournament of sorts for my four eleventh grade English classes. Rather than basketball teams competing, however, we've got modern American poems playing games. We skipped ahead in the tournament to the sweet-sixteen round (I don't think my students could handle 64 poems all at once). Over spring break last week, I selected the lucky 16, some by well known poets, others by poets I had never heard of but found on a website called "Poetry 180", complied by former poet-laureate Billy Collins. I tried to get a good mix of poems to appeal to a diverse group of students. The sixteen poems, in no particular order, are as follows:
1. "Out, Out--" by Robert Frost
2. "I Rise" by Maya Angelou
3. "Hate Poem" by Julie Sheehan
4. "Ballplayer" by Evie Shockley
5. "Fastbreak" by Edward Hirsch
6. "Theme for English B" by Langston Hughes
7. "Death of Santa Claus" by Charles Webb
8. "The Grammar Lesson" by Steve Kowit
9. "somerewhere I have never travelled" by ee cummings
10. "Wheels" by Jim Daniels
11. "What I Would Do" by Marc Peterson
12. "Sick" by Shel Silverstein
13. "Sure" by Adriana Tribia
14. "Daddy" by Sylvia Plath
15. "Richard Cory" by Edward Arlington Robinson
16. "My Papa's Waltz" by Theodore Roethke

We've made it through round 1, and will complete round 2 on Monday.

Some observations:
  • I picked "Out, Out--" by Frost thinking that my students would like the story of a boy getting his hand chopped off by a saw and then dying. I was wrong. They did, however, like Richard Cory shooting himself in the head and the whiskey on papa's breath.
  • "Daddy" got mixed reviews--some students were engaged by the longish poem; some students only looked up when I got to the end and said "Daddy, you bastard." Many took the poem literally--as in her dad really was a nazi. Most became more interested when I told them that Plath really was crazy, and she killed herself at the age of 30.
  • Everyone liked "Sick" by Silverstein. So much for trying to teach a little literary sophistication.
  • No one liked "The Grammar Lesson". They never do.
  • My African-American students (as well as quite a few others) really liked "Still I Rise" and "Theme for English B". My redneck country boys, however, did not. I am hoping that things will not turn ugly come the championship game.
  • Students were generally not impressed by ee cummings, even when I explained that like many of them, he did not use capital letters or traditional punctuation.
  • Both "Ballplayer" and "Fastbreak" were about basketball, but only students who liked basketball gave them high scores, so they didn't last too long. The more universal the poem's appeal, the better it fared.

    I'll let you know which poem wins.
  • No comments: