610. “Poetry Alive”

A duo called “Poetry Alive” came to the Fort River School to do a performance and subsequent workshops with several classes. They recited and dramatized poetry by Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, and several more. They captured the attention and imaginations of the children. There was no need for authorities to get children to quiet down and behave “appropriately,” even though the introductory performance was in an acoustically awful gym on one of the first beautiful days of spring – a day when everyone wanted to be outside; they also wanted to be exactly where they were.
Poetry did capture my imagination when I was in elementary school, but I think I was an exception back then; most of my friends didn’t want to have anything to do with it. To them, I think it was what is now called “nerdy” or “geeky” (“square,” I guess, was what we called it back then). I didn’t admit that I liked it. Maybe other children liked it, too, but they didn’t admit it, either.
But all of the children seemed to like and admit to liking what “Poetry Alive” did; it was mostly silly and fun. Of course, poetry can be much more than silly and fun, but you have to start somewhere, and with a large group of children, silly and fun can sometimes be a very good place to start. The children in the fourth grade class I work with had memorized some poems (some silly, some not), and spontaneously chimed in when “Poetry Alive” started to perform some of those poems. The performers let them take over; they didn’t react as if the children were interfering. And it made the children’s teacher, their student teacher, the children, and I smile with pride.
It’s much more effective to introduce poetry this way than to introduce it the way I remember it being introduced. The way I remember it, it was more like “Poetry Dead” than “Poetry Alive.” I think I liked it in spite of, not because of, the way teachers presented it. I don’t know to what degree teachers liked it, but I don’t think they captured many children’s imaginations.
But the performance of “Poetry Alive” really did make poetry come alive. And later, when they worked to help children prepare dramatizations, the room was filled with excitement. First, they talked about stage fright and gave children some helpful hints about how to deal with stage fright. Then they freed children to plan presentations, and they moved around the room making occasional suggestions and enjoying the work/play the children were doing.
I sometimes write poetry. So do some of my friends. We do it because we have things we want to say, and poetry feels like the best medium. There are plenty of other media that work for us and other people – photography, music, sculpture, painting, and many more. This prose I write often works for me. All I’m saying is that poetry can come alive for children if it’s presented well, and what “Poetry Alive” did and is doing really works.

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