April is Poetry Month. Poem-in-a-Pocket Day is April 18th so start looking for the poem you’d like to carry in your pocket to share with others on that day.
Last week the Smithsonian TweenTribune offered student articles like Helen Wright’s National Museum of American History Blog about a Cheerful Depression poem. A brown paper bag was used by the Pinero family to send an inexpensive Christmas card to their friends the McCormicks in Massachusetts in 1933. Inscribed on the holiday card was this poem:
In days gone by when we were broke
We hated to reveal it.
In fact our pride demanded that
We struggle to conceal it.
But now at last we’re right in style
And need not fear confession.
We shrug and smile and say ‘Oh, well
It’s merely this depression.’
And so this card which once we’d scorn
Now seems within all reason.
It’s cheap-and yet it brings to you
best wishes of the season!”
During the Great Depression unemployment was high and times were hard for Americans who faced difficult economic situations. Using whimsical verse intended to entertain they made light of their financial troubles.
Emily Dickenson wrote Hope Is the Thing with Feathers.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chilliest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
ReadWorks.org included this poem for seventh graders along with questions that help to elicit the theme of hope and the use of metaphors such as gale and storm to represent hardship. The poem suggests that hope like the little bird is resilient and keeps people warm. Might the line “never… asked a crumb of me” mean that Emily was an optimistic person?
The Academy of American Poets hosts a website that offers a poem a day. This is a portion of one of the recent offerings from Kahlil Gibran – “On Joy and Sorrow”
…Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises
was often times filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being,
the more joy you can contain…
Offering new meanings of cheerful depression this poem looks at how opposites may simply be the inside out of the other.
On the www.poets.org website in the lesson plan section, Scott Beal wrote some “Brain Spelunking” activities for students that help activate the rich imaginative material buried in the brain’s subconscious. Dreams like to hide during the day so poets have to trick them to come out when they’re awake. They have to dive deep to dig out what he called the “sparkling buried nuggets.”
He describes an automatic writing assignment that keeps kids writing quickly so that the mind can’t filter out the fanciful subconscious offerings. He primes the pump with a fun poem and gives them a sentence stem that starts like the exemplar poem.
He has them fold a sheet of paper into eighths and write down two animals, two machines, two yummy foods and two things that hurt. They cut these apart and place them upside down like cards. If they get stuck while writing, they have to draw one and include it in their writing which surprises the brain and causes it to make unusual connections.
Muriel Rukeyser, author of The Life of Poetry, feels poetry is an agent of change yet people, teachers and students alike, resist it. A poem invites the reader to feel and to respond. Poetry is brief, compact and complex, but some find it obscure and hard to understand.
Poetry provides a window to the world. Poets plunge into their emotions looking for meaning in hopes of freeing those emotions and finding the strength to face the future fresh with opportunities.
Elena Aguilar who reads fiction and nonfiction that inspire her to be a better educator recently said, “Every educator strives to be beacon of hope—informed by the troubling realities of our world, but a realistic optimist nonetheless.” May your search for poetry for your students inspire your teaching.
Kristi McCracken, author of two children’s books and a long time teacher in the South Valley, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.