STOP TEACHING POETRY (WRONG)!
THE PROBLEMS IN POETRY EDUCATION (OR LACK THEREOF)
March 25, 2022
(PHILADELPHIA) “Sometimes a deer is just a deer.”
That was a tweet by educator and panel guest Dr. Chen Chen that presenter Lindsay Tigue read to prove an important point: sometimes poetry is literal and there’s nothing to decode.
Tigue and her fellow panelists tackled the problem of teaching poetry to “win over the haters.” The group led a discussion at the AWP Conference and Bookfair called Fostering Student Appreciation for Poetry.
The four of them agreed that the way poetry in the modern era is taught is too analytical and takes away the “fun.”
“When we were kids, we just fell so easily into playing with language,” said Tomás Morín. “How do you evaluate play when tax dollars and school funding are attached to standardized tests?”
Paisley Rekdal, a poet and teacher, seemed to agree: “Hatred [for poetry] runs in different sorts of directions,” she said, adding that she had seen more reluctance with poetic education from graduate students rather than elementary students.
So, this begs the question: how should poetry be taught to students in order to engage them at every point of education?
“One of the biggest problems that comes up with students and poems is you are giving them something finished and done,” said Rekdal. “They don’t get to see the experience of it being made.”
She goes on to explain that students need to understand that making poetry is not a linear process. The average poet goes through tons of drafts before finally settling on “the one.”
Morín also adds his two cents, comparing poetry to a movie. He tells his students that they are the director and need to decide what kind of experience they want to curate for the reader.
All three educators went into detail about their methods and how they break down the anti-poetry barriers a prospective student may harbor.
For example, Chen Chen tackles the idea that poetry is only made by “old white people,” and reminds his students that their very own lives are poetry. “Students have all sorts of poetry in their lives already. They just haven’t called it or identified it as that yet.”
“You never ask what the poem means,” said Rekdal. “You ask what’s in the poem.” She builds on the idea that teaching poetry shouldn’t be all about decoding what’s written, but more centered around students and how they interpret it.
“‘What do you notice?’ is such a powerful question,” said Dr. Chen.
So, it seems that poetry can be made more accessible and understandable by means of how it is taught. Each panelist seemed to agree that modern day poetry education is flawed, and should be reinvented.
Rekdal draws the comparison between poetry and the food groups no one wants to eat. “Poetry is the spiritual broccoli of literature.” Hopefully, one day in the future that changes.