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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ah, Poetry....Music to my Ears.....Sort Of.....

This is a review.

Okay, I admit it.  I sort of loathe poetry.

If I sort of loathe it, Rainman absolutely, positively hates it.  (Unless it is one of those mushy cards for Mother's Day or something - He will spend forever in the aisles - according to the kids - reading through everyone looking for just the right heartfelt sentiment - when really, I would prefer a funny card.)

Anyway, that confession is to let you know that whenever there is a poetry unit in our children's language arts programs, we sort of hustle through it.  We cover the basics.  We discuss a few of them.  But, basically, we have been allowing the kids to feel that poetry is a necessary evil for all school children.....and something to just get through.

I know.

We are horrible, aren't we?

I try.  Every now and then I would remind the kids that rap music and most song lyrics were actually poetry.  And, the letters that Santa leaves us every year are always poems. 

I tried....but, we all knew it was half hearted.

Rainman and I just don't "get" a lot of poetry.  I like clever/funny poetry.   But, deep, meaningful poetry.....(sigh).....not so much. 

We read it and then when asked to interpret it or what the author was thinking/feeling or trying to portray....our eyes just glaze over and we go look up an interpretation on Google.

So, when two relatively smart human beings are put in a situation where they are supposed to "teach" someone about all the intricacies of poetry, what do they do?


Just kidding.

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You get lucky enough to have a chance to turn to Classical Academic Press and use something called.....

The Art of Poetry, published by Classical Academic Press and created by Christine Perrin, MFA who has taught literature and creative writing at Johns Hopkins University, Messiah College, as well as Gordon College’s Orvieto Program (I had never heard of that last thingie....but it is really interesting).

I was still tempted to run the other way.  But, deep down, I do feel bad about the bias that we are hand feeding to the kids about all things poetry.

It is sort of funny how poetry seems to be following us around....whether we "get" it or not.  When D-man started taking classes at a college prep high school in January, guess what his very first section in English class covered?  Yup.  Poetry.  The whole 3rd quarter was all about poetry.  Poor guy.  I think we were getting a message that poetry would not be ignored any longer!

The Art of Poetry is designed for students grade 6 and up, but L-girl (5th grade) and I tackled this first since she had the most open time in her schedule to dive into something new.

I will be honest here.  She was not excited....nor was I.  Once we actually got the book, I was regretting wanting to be a big girl and try to understand poetry.

But, we did it.  We dove in.  I had the teacher's edition

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(Doesn't it look nice and relaxing and soothing on the cover?  Not scary.  Right?)

She had the regular textbook

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We started. 

She complained.

She said she was bored.

I got grumpy.

I was scared that L-girl as a smart 5th grader, just wasn't smart enough for this since it was recommended for 6th grade and up and tried to figure out a way to fit it into A-girl's (7th grade) schedule.

I read gem after gem in the introduction that made me feel much better about myself and that it was okay to not understand poetry all the time.  Did you hear that?  It is okay to not "get" it!

I fell in love with the teacher's edition as soon as I got to the First Principles section in the introduction, because it said, "Do not let this book overwhelm you.  If all you do is give this book to your students as a resource that you only minimally engage, you have already made a great step....."

Ahhh....the feeling of dropping a big old load of guilt is amazing, isn't it?

The introduction goes on to talk about (paraphrasing here....) the teacher feeling overwhelmed as they sort through all the different approaches to teaching poetry in this manner. (Yup.) Looking at the history, biography and body of work of the poet, as well as the elements within the work. (What?) She concludes that people/teachers who live their lives with the help of poetry struggle to find a way to teach it to people in a way that isn't just a dead fetal pig that they are using for dissection. 

For some reason, that last bit about the dead fetal pig really hit home with me.  Not just because it is a gross mental picture, but because I realized that I was viewing poetry as just some sort of biology class to just put on my rubber gloves, pick up the scalpel and get the yucky dissection parts over with.

I was feeling inspired, empowered and sort of excited to jump into the Art of Poetry, but L-girl, who had started working through the textbook while I was reading the introduction in the teacher's edition was not feeling all of those same feelings.

Then I remembered that they had included a DVD that covered Chapters 1 and 2 of the course. So, I decided we should try that out and see.

Ahhhhh...(insert the sound of choirs singing here). 

It was great.  It gave a totally different feel to the course through the use of round table type discussion amongst the teacher and her students.  You just follow along with their discussion with your textbook in front of you. 

Night and day I tell you.

The teacher sounds all calm and sweet and everytime the kids express an opinion, she answers in that same sweet, supportive voice, and says things like, "Ahhh...that is interesting."  Or, "Good point."

I will tell you those kids are a lot smarter than me and use much bigger words, but helped me understand some of the poems better than I had in just reading through them.

See? The first 2 chapters go through Images and Metaphor in poetry.  The discussion made you think and open your eyes to what some of the underlying messages were in these poems.

We also liked the Appendix A part of the book that has short biographies of the poets included in the book.  Because part of analyzing  the authors work is understanding them as a person and what their view on life is....which really makes total sense, but I hadn't really thought of it before.

By the way, see Appendix C?  A Simplified Plan?  That is another way this book took a load of guilt off my back.  It gave me permission not to just shove poems down the kids throat in a hasty manner, via this textbook,  but gave suggestions on how to help initiate us into the world of poetry....even if we weren't going to sit down and dig into the textbook.

L-girl liked this program much more when she was using the DVD discussions.  I still wouldn't say she loves poetry, but look at what she created:

In the fall, the leaves on the tree
Blow off to be free
And the tree is left bare
Though it seems not to care
Then, when the time is near
In the middle of the year
They will start the cycle once more
And the leaves will once again drop to the floor

I must have asked her about 5 or 6 times if she copied that from somewhere!  She never would have been able to put that together before The Art of Poetry.  Never.

There is a whole Art of Poetry bundle that you can get which costs $124.95.  The bundle includes the student text, the teacher's text and the DVD set.  You can get these as individual items too.  The Student book is $24.95.  The Teacher's Edition is $29.95 (which, believe want to get). The DVD set is $89.95 (which, we really ended up needing.) 

But, if you wait until April 1st, they are lowering their prices!!!  The Art of Poetry prices for the complete program and DVD will be $99.95, or $69.95 for the DVD. 
Others on the Review Crew got a chance to be logical as well as poetic this time around. Take a look and see what they thought.