Friday, June 25, 2010

Poetry Friday: Don't Be Listless, Part 1

List poems seem easy to throw together. Pick a topic. Make a list -- one item per line -- voila! Poetry.

That's like saying a haiku is as simple as 5-7-5.

Similar to haiku, the more thought a poet puts into a list poem, the richer the rewards. Reading and writing list poems can be an exercise in critical thinking, well-suited for middle school and older writers.

I created this lesson for a local middle school Writer's Guild. It was a huge hit! Non-teachers, feel free to skip the lesson-plan lingo and head straight for the model poem. Teachers -- Laura Evans will make the full lesson available at Teach Poetry K-12. Thanks, Laura.

List Poem Lesson
Skills:
  • use a refrain to create rhythm
  • build to a lift or surprise at poem's end
  • pay attention to word/image choice to create tone
Materials:
  • List (see below) from Found Magazine (copy for each student, or on projector)
  • "At the Nuclear Rally" by Laura Boss (copy for each student)
1. Warm up discussion
  • Who uses lists and why?
  • If someone found a list you wrote, what would they know about you?

2. Read a "found poem" list from Found Magazine. Note -- screen the Found website before sharing items with kids.


  • What do we know about the list-maker?
  • How is the last item on the  list important?
  • How is a list like a poem?
My writers loved working with this model. They got it! List items can show character. A surprising item at the end of a list adds depth for the reader.

3. Read "At the Nuclear Rally" by Laura Boss.

Laura Boss is a longtime Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Program poet, editor of LIPS magazine and was one of my first mentors. She is a master of the list-poem form.

This poem is available in many anthologies and Boss's books. I have it from her book, Reports from the Front (Cross-Cultural Communications, 1995).

At the Nuclear Rally

by Laura Boss

thinking of my father
who died of cancer of the pancreas
now linked to radiation

thinking of my father
who worked for the Atomic Energy Commission
that ran security check on him
questioning our neighbors in Woodbridge

thinking of my father
with a pen in his pocket
who could add four columns of figures
in his head but stayed poor
working for the OPA
while colleagues took
expensive presents

thinking of my father
who embarrassed me, singing in the car
with the radio on as I now do
who returned from government trips
with marzipan strawberries, bananas, grapes
who cooked Sunday breakfasts of chocolate
French toast (his special recipe)
and let my mother sleep late

thinking of my father
who was born Jewish
but never went to temple
never was Bar Mitzvahed

thinking of my father
who smelled of Chesterfields
who never hit, never spanked me
told me he was glad I walked home
with the only black woman
in my high school class

thinking of my father
who would have been at this rally
next to me tonight

Posted with permission of the author. Thanks, Laura!

4. Discussion of "At the Nuclear Rally"
  • What items on the list stand out for you?
  • What do we know about her father?
  • How does the refrain add to the poem?
  • Discuss the last stanza -- why is this last?
Boy, were the middle schoolers I visited ready to sink their teeth into this poem!

I'll post the related writing prompt and poetry starters later today. For now, head over to Amy at the Art of Irreverence for more Poetry Friday.

7 comments:

Toby Speed said...

Laura, I liked this powerful poem, the way she linked the cause of her father's death in the first stanza to her anger and the wish to have him with her in the last. I don't think I've ever written a list poem (yet). Thanks for sharing this.

Author Amok said...

There's so much going on between the lines that she lets the reader connect. The nuclear rally in the title is only mentioned once (and without the word "nuclear") but it resonates through the poem.

jama said...

I love that we learn as much about the poet as we do about her father. Powerful and moving. Thanks for sharing and for the list poem lesson :).

all things poetry said...

Hi Laura,

Thanks so much for allowing the poetry lesson to be posted on my site. You can find it: http://teachpoetryk12.com/teacher-lessons/

What a terrific poem. Such a lovely elegy.

Laura Evans
all things poetry

Author Amok said...

Thanks for stopping by Jama and Laura.

Wow -- sometimes I get so caught up in the wonderful details of this poem that I forget it's also an elegy.

Mary Lee said...

Great lesson and great model poem! I'm thinking of ways to adapt this to fourth grade writers...

Author Amok said...

Hi, Mary Lee. What do you think about the Found list? Sarcasm can be tricky for fourth graders to pick up. Let me think about some models that might work for you.