(Special post from Miss Amanda Windes, veteran Language Arts teacher at Bradford Academy)
Over the years, Bradford students have memorized tens (maybe hundreds!) of poems, listened to one another rattle off silly and serious poetry, and studied poems in class. Sometimes, poetry can seem like a foreign language – strange wording, distant meanings, disconnected from daily life. Why spend time with it? More reasons exist than this, but here are some to think about:
A poem is a manageable and brief unit of language to study. One goal in learning to read is that students can see the words, process the words, and then discover and enjoy what the words are telling them. Because poems are language that has been arranged in clever grammatical structures, poetry provides an extra challenging – though short – exercise in reading well.
Students, by imitating poetry, learn creative and powerful ways to put words together. Poets are masters of conjuring sharp images in the reader’s mind to communicate through metaphor, personification, and simile. Also, poets love to play with words! Poems ought to surprise and delight us with the interesting ways they put words together, displaying the quirks, textures, sounds, and nuances in words.
Students learn that every word matters immensely and a focused study rewards the reader. Each word in a poem’s compact unit influences the meaning, the sound, the rhythm, the tone, and the patterns of the poem. They learn to pay attention to why that precise word was chosen, a discipline that helps in all sorts of reading and writing.
A poem has an ability to express an idea, describe an object, or capture an experience in a wholly unique way. We teach students that poetry is its own language – “the language of pictures and music.” Because of this, to fully explain all that a poem communicates would take pages of writing. Poetry has the unique quality of combining the sounds of the words, the images created by words, and a poem’s structure to convey dense meaning.
Because poetry expresses things in a unique way, it can help us to see the world in a fresh way. One of my professors used to quote Psalm 96:1, “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord all the earth!” because poetry is that – a new song about the world. It helps us to understand the eternal truths about friendship, about mushrooms, about washing dishes in a fresh way, maybe with a brighter view. And with this, we can praise the Lord and rejoice in his creation, or sorrow when the burdens of this world are also made clearer.
David and the other Psalmists used poetry to praise the Lord and communicate the wonder of God to his people. Our study of poetry helps us better understand God’s word. It should also give us new avenues for praising Him.
Finally, poetry contains beauty in the way the words sound, the images created, and the revelations of what this world is. Every bit of beauty at which we marvel reveals a bit more of who our God is and gives us a longing for the fullness and totality of beauty only found in Him.
Our students will not understand or gain all of these benefits immediately. Yet, as they continue to grow familiar with poetry and appreciate its nuances and meaning, the students may learn to praise God yet more for the amazing creation of words, the power words hold, and the gift of God’s message to us written in words!
Amanda Windes, 8th Grade Omnibus Teacher