It’s National Poetry Month and that means we are celebrating all things poetry!
For this month’s column, we asked our Teacher Writing Collaborative to share the poems they are most captivated by—the poems they love and the poems they love to teach. Whether you are an educator or not, we are sure you will enjoy the poems they picked.
And if you’re feeling really ambitious, you can print out and mail or email the link to any of these poems to someone you think may enjoy them on Poem in Your Pocket Day on Saturday, April 29.
Our Teacher Writing Collaborative meets every other Thursday on Zoom to write together and share resources/strategies. All educators are welcome and can join at any time. Our next TWC is Thursday, April 20.
Danielle Boska: My favorite poem I teach is a blend of modern and a classic: “Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes,” by Billy Collins (my favorite poets). I love that Emily Dickinson always wanted to remain private and Billy Collins exposes her in a good way. When I read this to my sophomores, they get a little embarrassed because they don’t know where I am going. But then I teach them the beauty, the simplicity, the modern with a classic.
Jennifer Chauhan: One of my favorite poems is “My First Memory (of Librarians),” by Nikki Giovanni. The first time I read it I was immediately transported back to my childhood as it perfectly captured my early library experiences—the vastness of stories, dreams, hopes. In truth my childhood library was the first step to my career as a writer and educator. I love using this poem as a way to begin writing about any first memories: first friend, first kiss, first failure, first heartbreak, first job, and so on.
Kelly McAuley: My favorite poem right now is “Gate A-4,” by Naomi Shihab Nye. I love this poem because it speaks to the common thread of humanity. It showcases that true pass-it-on kindness, deeper than paying for the person behind you but rather paying it forward for the person before your very eyes with true compassion. I teach it so my students know that in order to make true change, you must be willing to take risks, that one act of kindness can be truly life affirming for both the giver and receiver. The cookies stand for kindness and the narrator hopes that the reader too will be motivated to share with those around them, which echoes my hope for my students as well. This poem leaves you feeling that hope still remains for this world, pass it on.
Mona Soliman: I love teaching “Rite of Passage,” by Sharon Olds. I teach this poem with The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. It is rich in irony and provides insight into how little boys are influenced by culture. It is a bit comical, but also scary, in that it offers a glimpse into the dark heart of man.
Jamie Vander Velde: I read “[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in],” by ee cummings, with my students. I teach this poem for many reasons. First, because it deals with love and almost all teenagers love love. I also teach it to highlight the playful nature of language and punctuation use. This is something that often goes away after students stop reading children’s books and I like to reintroduce the wonder of the poetic reading and writing experience. In addition, many of my students are artists and ee cummings as a painter and poet incorporated visual elements in his poems as well as used symbology from the natural world, including flowers and the moon. Many of the students resonate with that. Finally, ee cummings embraced a whole new way of writing poetry after his experiences in a PoW camp during WWI as well as living through the 1918 flu pandemic. He felt that the old models and rules of living as well as poetry writing no longer stood up to the present he was facing. My students certainly can identify with those notions after the past few years and I can offer them a way to process some of their thoughts, emotions, and experiences through poetry.