In my Young Adult Literature class, we recently spent some time talking about poetry. One of the articles we read was Betsey Coleman’s “Poetry is Contagious,” which explored a variety of poetry forms she had used with her classes and how she had implemented them in her instruction. In class, we discussed the importance of creative writing, using examples from former students to encourage reluctant poets, and keeping the assignments unexpected, exciting and relevant. Coleman’s examples included things like the Form Poem, which uses the structure of a dictionary, bibliography, transcript, warning label, dedication, health record, or prescription to create something new. This poem’s form could allow for some very creative results that require outside-the-box thinking, whether it is a how-to for something silly like in Michelle Robinson’s How to Wash a Woolly Mammoth or a warning label for a boring history textbook or telling a story through a series of exchange rates.
Another example of “contagious” poetry was the Punctuation/Sign Poem, in which students create poems about letters, numbers, geometric figures, or punctuation marks. This poem is about an asterisk:
Coleman explains the importance of connecting students to the assignment by showing them former students’ creations and offering students “frequent and varied opportunities” to write poetry. With this and Coleman’s other projects, she suggests requiring students to submit at least one poem to a contest or publication, but to give them the choice of which one to send in, giving students the empowering opportunity to see their names in print. She also focuses on the importance of audience, whether it is displaying the work prominently in the school or other means of sharing “within the school community through the school’s publications, contests, newsletters, or assemblies; through outside Web sites; or through regional contests…or national publications.” This reminded me of our conversation in class about having a purpose for writing assignments, an intentional audience or intended use for the final products. I think connecting assignments to students’ school community and beyond can be imperative in fostering the concept of writing as an important activity that has real connections to their own lives.
My group’s discussion of innovative and non-traditional poetry formats strayed to the idea of “Spine Poetry,” where people use the spines of books to create poems. Google the term and you are inundated with varied and inspiring results, such as
I love the idea of Spine Poetry, because it is a physical creation of a poem from stacking books that retains its creativity and literacy components. Students get excited about creating a poem from their favorite titles and it also allows for students who struggle to think of themselves as writers or poets to try a new form of poetry creation. Spine Poetry would be an excellent opportunity to share photos of students’ poems on Instagram or a class blog or twitter account. I feel that this poetry form would fit easily into the types of assignments that Coleman describes, offering a new and different format, but one that will not overpower the actual writing. Spine Poetry is also relevant to “digital natives,” who may give more credit to a project if it is something they can find all over Pinterest and Tumblr already.
Coleman, B. (2004). “Poetry is Contagious”: How I Teach My Students to Write Award-Winning Poetry. Voice Of Youth Advocates, 27(1), 17-21.