The Simple Act of Seeing Poetry

The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse, inspired by the poem of the same name by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Students have this way of not being able to break through the jumble of words in a poem and understand why they are there. I have often seen them struggle with abstract concepts such as the metaphors that can come out through poems, and it’s not because they don’t get them; it might be that they’re not thinking them through.

That sounds insulting, I know. But take a classic sonnet like “Sonnet 130: My Mistress’ Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun.”  The poem is only fourteen lines, so being that it is short, students will make the assumption that there really isn’t much to it. Ask them to read it to themselves and they will but they might not be able to tell you what he’s talking about. Ask them to listen to it being read and they get it a little more, or in the very least they’ll think the woman being described is ugly even if they don’t get the couplet at the end.

>Sometimes, I’ve found, what helps is creating a visual representation. Yeah, i Know that this is not a new concept because people have been creating visual art from or inspired by poetry for hundreds of years and I am not sure I am not the only person to have students draw what they see when they read a poem. And if that’s the case, then why am I writing a blog post about it?

Well, I think it’s because I wanted to use this as an example of how something engaging does not have to be overly complicated, take a lot of time, or use a lot of extraneous resources. My sophomores grabbed paper, pencil, and crayons today, chose a poem for a huge stack I had printed out and worked either alone or in pairs to create something. There wasn’t technology used (I couldn’t if I wanted to–every resource in the building is being used for benchmark testing), there wasn’t anything to put on an app or to post online, and we weren’t using this as a stepping stone to some sort of greater, global project. They simply read, drew, colored, showed it to me and one another and then handed it in.

And sometimes, to be honest, something that simple is all you need.


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