Why use Poetry?
Poetry is a beautiful form of the written language with roots in oral expression, which is emphasized in this unit. When you immerse children in this genre you are immersing them in a skillfully crafted language. They learn how the authors can include a large amount of ideas with the fewest amount of words. Fountas and Pinnell wrote that there are five reasons teachers should use poetry in their class. Poetry "Enables students to appreciate the sound and imagery of language. Invites students to understand and view themselves and their world in new ways. Enriches students' lives as they discover words, sound, and rhythm in unique, creative ways. Intrigues students as it offers puzzles within puzzles. Captures the essence of meaning in the sparest of language" (Fountas and Pinnell, 2001). Poetry is an invaluable tool to use with students for them to understand a variety of concepts more deeply.
Poetry is also a genre that can easily be performed. Often poets intend for their writing to be performed or read out loud. Once students are comfortable with a poem, they can perform it in front of the class. This can give them overall confidence because they are performing a published author's work, and can help to eliminate fears when performing their own writing. When a student performs something, it invites students to interpret and communicate poetic meaning using many symbol systems including art, dance, and music (Gardner 1983). It is a way to internalize written language in a way that is deeper than just reflecting.
What is Poetry?
Poetry brings together sounds and words in an original form. When read, it intrigues the reader and can evoke intense imagery and profound meaning. Poets are the most selective when it comes to choosing words. They choose words not only for their meaning, but also for their sound and length. They choose to put words together based on how they sound to form an image or idea in the reader's mind and also so that the reader can gain a deeper meaning. The best poets have mastered the art of surprise. They might include a surprise ending, or include a rhyme to surprise the reader. Quality poetry makes the reader want to read it over and over again and the length of most poems promotes re-reading and close attention. The reader might gain a deeper understanding each time the poem is experienced. Also in poetry, thoughts and emotions can be provoked by a single word.
Poetry does not need to take a specific form. It also does not need to rhyme. Rhyme is only one technique authors use. It does not need to shape all poems. All poets try to make their poems sound in a way that will add to the meaning. Many poems are written so that sense is generated out of sound. Poets play on the way phrases or independent words sound throughout the poem. Creating sounds through words chosen help add meaning.
Rhythm of the Words
In our fast paced world, we need poetry. It helps us question, observe, and discover words through a rhythm. It forces the reader to read fast or slow, in the way the author intended. Rhythm has a direct access to the unconscious. It can hypnotize the mind and enter our bodies creating a movement. It has a power when it is read. To human beings, rhythm is a natural thing."The rhythm of poetry is sometimes said to be based on the rhythm of work, but no one wonders then why we work rhythmically. The heartbeat—pa-thunk, pa-thunk, pa-thunk" (Hass, 1984). Rhythm is all around us, if you listen closely to the sounds surrounding you. It is something we notice at a young age. If you listen right now, you will probably hear a rhythm whether it is the crashing of the waves or the passing of the cars, it is there. Humans find comfort in rhythm. It creates an order, making us feel safe and secure. It helps us predict what will happen next, and it helps us remember what we have just experienced.
Rhythm is the ordered application of stress from one syllable to the next (Fountas and Pinnell, 2001). Rhythm can help to convey specific meanings. For example, the speed of the rhythm can help the reader understand the poem. If the rhythm is fast, the poem indicates action or excitement. If the rhythm is slow, the poem indicates peacefulness, or harmony. Rhythm in a poem is similar to the beat of music. Repetition of words or patterns can also add to the rhythm. Many times, a change in rhythm alerts the reader that there is a change in action or meaning. "If you have heard enough poetry read aloud or recited, you can hear the rhythm in your head as you read" (Fountas and Pinnell, 2001). Most students should be able to hear the rhythm in their heads if the teacher reads aloud more than once.
One way that the author can create a rhythm is through accent. Accent is how we stress a word. For example the word "present" can be read two different ways depending on where the accent or stress is placed. In the sentence, "In this present time, I will present you with a gift," the word "present" is stressed differently creating a distinction between two meanings of the word. If the stress is placed on the second syllable and is read as pre
, you are referring to offering something. If the accent is placed on the first syllable and is read
ent, you are referring to the current time. We turn our volume up or down for the two syllables to create the distinction between those words.
Authors use accent to create rhythm in their poetry. Notice in the poem "The Moon was but a Chin of Gold" how Emily Dickinson uses the understanding of accent to create a rhythm in this poem. Make sure when reading that you stress the word or word part that is capital and bold.
If you read carefully you will notice the rhythm she used. The first line has four stressed syllables, the second line has three stressed syllables, the third line has four stressed syllables, and the fourth line has three stressed syllables. The pattern she uses is four stressed, three stressed, four stressed, three stressed, and then the end of the stanza. Each line starts with an unstressed syllable and ends with a stressed syllable. Also between each stressed syllable is one unstressed syllable. She wrote this and many more poems in a rhythm or meter called iambic. Iambic meter is a set of words composed of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Dickinson's poem in particular is called hymn meter because it is the meter that is used in many Christian hymns. Emily attended church regularly and used this pattern frequently in her poetry. This meter is unique because it has a four/three pattern of stresses.
An easy way to notice if a poem has an iambic meter is to clap out the rhythm of a poem. The unstressed syllables are soft, or weak, and the stressed syllables are loud, or strong. Try re-reading Dickinson's poem by clapping softly for the unstressed syllables and loudly for the stressed syllables.
Another technique Dickinson used is that she rhymes the second and fourth line. This is another technique used in hymn meter and adds to the rhythm of the poem. It helps give the reader predictability when reading the poem. The reader is expecting the same sound to appear.
Another author who uses an iambic meter is Jack Prelutsky. Prelutsky writes poetry aimed at a younger audience than Dickinson, yet he uses a similar style of meter to create rhythm. Notice the similarities and differences in Prelutsky's poem "I wish I had a Dragon."
Prelutsky uses the iambic meter called iambic trimeter. This is a meter of poetry that uses three stressed syllables per line. This is also different because of the amount of unstressed syllables he uses. The first line has four unstressed syllables and the second has only two unstressed syllables. He continues this pattern throughout.
Rhythm of words is not only achieved through a strict repetition of accent or stress. It can also be achieved in a free verse format. Free verse poems do not choose one particular pattern or order. However, all poems have the possibilities of patterns even if they are not choosing a specific format. "Free verse rhythm is not a movement between pattern and absence of pattern, but between phrases based on odd and even numbers of stresses" (Hass,1984). For example, a poem can have rhythm if the pattern is three, three, four stressed syllables. Even though there is no repetition the words can still have a movement.
Rhyme and Sound Patterns
Many poems have a repeated sound. This sound helps to connect the poem together and gives pleasure to the listener.
The first sound pattern that is most common is rhyme. Rhyme is a correspondence in terminal sounds. For example, "leaf" rhymes with "beef." The ending sounds are the same. Rhymes do not need to be spelled the same, but they need the same end sound. Readers enjoy rhymes, especially when the pattern is repeated, because it gives them a sound to expect. They find reassurance and comfort when they hear the matching rhyme. The best rhymes are those that are unexpected and surprise the reader. The reader expects a rhyme but doesn't exactly know how it will be delivered.
The second sound pattern is alliteration. Alliteration repeats consonant sounds. In the first four lines of Jack Prelutsky's "The Dance of Thirteen Skeletons" Prelutsky uses alliteration to create a sound pattern. Notice the repetition of /s/.
In a snow-enshrouded graveyard
Gripped by winter's bitter chill,
Not a single sound is stirring,
All is silent, all is still
The use of repetition also demonstrates the use of rhythm. Many times the repetition of consonants helps set the mood or tone. Similar to alliteration is consonance. Consonance is when the author repeats consonant sounds at the end of the words. These words do not rhyme but have one consonant in common at the end of the word. If you look back to the example of "The Dance of Thirteen Skeletons" by Prelutsky, you can notice consonance throughout this section of the poem. You might notice the repetition of the letter d in "enshrouded, graveyard, gripped." You might also notice the consonance of repeated ll in the words "chill, all, and still."
Another sound pattern is called assonance. Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds. The words "silent and still" are placed together in the last line of "The Dance of Thirteen Skeletons." Both words have a strong i sound.
The last feature of sound is onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia is a word that imitates the sound it stands for. Words such as buzz and slurp sound like what they mean. Edgar Allen Poe uses onomatopoeia in the poem "The Bells."
Hear the Sledges with the bells-
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
Notice how Poe emphasizes the sound of the bells by imitating the actual sound they make. The reader is able to vividly imagine the ringing when reading "The Bells."
Forms of Poetry
Poetry is a unique genre of literature for many reasons. One reason it is unique is because it can be fiction or nonfiction. Poems can focus on a character, setting, or point of view. They can focus on a theme or message. They are intended to suggest a tone or emotion. Poems can describe things in a vivid fashion, creating life. Most forms of poetry originate in the past but have been written for children to enjoy today. Some of the most common forms that both adults and children enjoy are free verse, lyric, narrative, limericks, cinquain, concrete, found, list, formula and haiku. This unit focuses on free verse and haiku. However, you can incorporate any form of poetry into this unit (especially in week one and two).
One form of poetry that is looked at in week three is haiku. Haiku is a style of poetry adapted from Japan. Haiku uses simple language. There are no rhyming or repeating words. There are also no metaphors. A haiku must have only three lines. As stated earlier, the first and third lines have five syllables and the second line has seven syllables. Because there are so few syllables, these poems explain as much as possible with few words. Most haikus are about concepts in nature.
Free verse is another form of poetry that is used in week one of this unit. Free verse gives the writer more options when writing. This form does not have to rhyme or have a regular rhythm. It does not need to have a certain amount of lines or syllables. The author chooses what sounds right to him or her. The intentions when writing this form is to choose words and sounds that help express the meaning, tone, or feeling. The author has the freedom to change the poem to their liking.
Another form of poetry that is popular in children's' poetry is formula poems. This type of poetry is used in week four. Hymn meter is a type of formula poem. It is structured poetry that forces the reader to insert words into a preestablished structure. Hymn meter is structured by accent and syllable counts. The first line must be eight syllables long, the second line is five syllables long, and the pattern repeats. Each line starts with a short syllable followed by a long syllable. Hymn meter is used in this unit during week two and is explained more thoroughly in the Background Knowledge section called Rhythm of Words. Iambic trimeter is also a formula poem looked at in this unit during week two. Jack Prelutsky writes in iambic trimester. He writes so that each line has six syllables and every other syllable is stressed. Iambic trimeter is also explained more completely in the Background Knowledge section called Rhythm of Words.
Meaning and Emotion
Poetry communicates ideas in skillful ways. Read the first stanza of "Monotone" by Carl Sandburg and notice the meaning and emotion.
The monotone of the rain is beautiful,
And the sudden rise and slow relapse
Of a long multitudinous rain
In "Monotone" Sandburg creates a feeling of calmness. Describing rain coming down as monotone creates a peaceful feeling. There is beauty in the sound and the image you get when you think about his words. The reader gets to experience the sound of rain while reading. There is a rhythm in his words just like there is a rise and slow rhythm of the rain. Poetry can take his experience with the world and compress the meaning into just a few words. By compacting the weather he is experiencing into three short lines he intensifies the emotion and every word becomes part of the message he is sending to his audience.
Understanding the author's intention can be difficult if the reader does not understand the tone of the author. If the tone is playful, and the reader does not understand this, then the reader might misunderstand a joke. Think of the words, "you're right." The speaker can say those two words with a variety of meanings. The speaker might say them as a statement, question, or sarcastic remark. Interpreting the words depends on how they are delivered. It is much easier to infer the speakers' intentions when their words are heard orally. However, there are some clues to help the reader understand the author's intentions.
When reading poems there are ways the reader can infer the tone without hearing the poem first. The tone can come through meter (as described above), rhyme, word choice or repetition. If the meter is quick it can make a poem feel exciting or uplifting. If the poem has a slower meter the poem might have a more somber or depressing tone. The words throughout the poem play a part in the tone of the poem. Poems with strong tone have word choice that helps the reader infer the tone of the poem. The author may choose silly rhyming words that lift the poem up in a silly tone, or the rhymes might be more sophisticated creating a serious tone. If the author repeats a silly word then the reader can infer the author is being playful, but if the author repeats a somber word then the reader can infer the poem is more serious. Since poets know that the tone is important and hard to understand in so few words, many poets use these techniques to insure the reader understands correctly. The reader can easily note tone once they are trained to look for the authors' clues.