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The Land of Potpourri

Who hasn’t enjoyed the lovely words of William Wordsworth?

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Or perhaps the opening lines in Jack Prelutsky's selection of The Land of Potpourri makes you wide eyed with interest.

Oh, take my hand and stroll with me,

into the Land of Potpourri,

a land to think, a land to dream,

a land of peaches topped with cream,

of orange crayons, yellow pears,

a wind-up frog upon the stairs,

a windy beach, a flying bed,

a helicopter overhead...

My personal favorite poet is Emily Dickinson as I’ve said before in other blog posts. Some other noteworthy poets include Tennyson, Shakespeare, Emerson, Browning, Prelutsky, Thoreau, Poe, Keats, and Millay. Some current conservative poets I enjoy include Sheila Petre, Jennifer Perfect, Joanna Martin, Sheri Yutzy, Claudia Lehman, Anita Yoder, Janice Etter etc.

Poetry is a literary work in which special attention is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by using distinctive style, rhyme, and rhythm. I believe everyone should appreciate the beauty of poetry.

Here is a beautiful poem I was recently introduced to.

Amor Mundi

“Oh where are you going with your love-locks flowing

On the west wind blowing along this valley track?”

“The downhill path is easy, come with me an it please ye,

We shall escape the uphill by never turning back.”

So they two went together in glowing August weather,

The honey-breathing heather lay to their left and right;

And dear she was to dote on, her swift feet seemed to float on

The air like soft twin pigeons too sportive to alight.

“Oh what is that in heaven where gray cloud-flakes are seven,

Where blackest clouds hang riven just at the rainy skirt?”

“Oh that’s a meteor sent us, a message dumb, portentous,

An undeciphered solemn signal of help or hurt.”

“Oh what is that glides quickly where velvet flowers grow thickly,

Their scent comes rich and sickly?”—“A scaled and hooded worm.”

“Oh what’s that in the hollow, so pale I quake to follow?”

“Oh that’s a thin dead body which waits the eternal term.”

“Turn again, O my sweetest,—turn again, false and fleetest:

This beaten way thou beatest I fear is hell’s own track.”

“Nay, too steep for hill-mounting; nay, too late for cost-counting:

This downhill path is easy, but there’s no turning back.”

Source: The Norton Anthology of Poetry Third Edition (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1983)

Christina Rossetti discusses the “downhill path”. She talks about how humans take the easiest route. But then halfway through the poem several warning signals are given. The warnings are unheeded, because the downhill route is the easiest. The wording is lovely, and the message still more powerful. That’s what poetry does. It takes a truth or interpretation of human life, charges it with beautiful wording, and makes us stop and think, reflect and ponder human struggle and victory.

Enjoying poetry makes life fuller, richer, and more meaningful. The Bible uses this genre, so we do well to study poetry and make efforts to appreciate it. Poetry can be difficult to read and understand so many people shy away from it. Most of our literature and reading courses teach the form, sounds, and structure of poetry. What the curriculums lack (for obvious reasons) is the excitement from the teacher. Our own passion for poetry kindles interest in others.

Poetry is so important because it helps us understand and appreciate the world around us. Poetry's strength lies in its ability to shed a “sideways” light on the world, so the truth sneaks up on you. No question about it. Poetry teaches us how to live. -Alice Osborn

Because poetry can be difficult to read and understand people avoid it. But there is merit in simply enjoying word choices and imagery. That can take the pressure off of needing to understand every line, every thought. Becoming a student of poetry is a noble goal and I think it behooves us to learn the elements, sounds, form and structure of poetry. However, don’t let that keep you from enjoying what is within your grasp. Poetry is not “just for the birds”.

Studying and enjoying “A Psalm of Life” isn’t just for high school students. We should start at a much younger age. I believe that very young children should be introduced to poetry. Maybe it’s quoting mother goose rhymes at bath time or combing hair time. As children continue to mature, immerse them into poetry for the sheer joy of it. Read poems such as “Alphabet Stew” and “A Bird Came Down the Walk” and “Trees”. Your enthusiasm and discussion over poems will inevitably spill over into the children’s perception of poetry. Another way I introduce my children to poetry is to read a poem or two after breakfast from the book 'Tis the Season for Poetry by Kari Vanhoozer. We’ve spent time memorizing poems like “A Place for Everything”, and “Work While You Work”. Children memorize easily and I like to take advantage of that. We all enjoy learning together. The Random House Book of Poetry for children is a another important book to stock in your classroom and home.

Here are some ideas on how to incorporate more poetry into school life:

· Read a short poem every morning before students begin their work.

· Have students pick out a poem they would like to read and insist on excellent oral reading. Half of the enjoyment of poetry is hearing it well read. Help students understand how to read poetry and how to emphasize accented syllables and how to follow the punctuation.

· Print out poems and have students underline words or phrases they don’t understand and then send them to the dictionary to try to figure out what they mean. Have students circle words or word combinations they especially enjoy and then challenge them to use them in their day at least twice. It broadens their vocabulary and keeps the interest beyond “poetry emphasis”.

· Every month you could slot out an hour where students model (write) a poem. Trees, A Bird Came Down the Walk, Only a Little Thing, Gold, are good titles for this. This is an idea from Jonas Sauder

· Have students respond to a stimulating picture and write three to four poetic lines about what they perceive is happening. This could be turned into a bulletin board. Another great idea from Jonas Sauder.

· Memorize a poem together and share it with another class or ask the parents to come listen to the recital.

· Have students draw art or cut out pictures to put around the poem “The Land of Potpourri” inscribed on a big poster board.

· Have a local poet come give a talk and short “how-to” presentation to your students on how to write poetry.

Students are capable of so much more than we know. Read this poem by one of our high school students.

“The Abscissa of Average Acute Algebra”

My algebra cubing,

Can factor permuting.

Hyperboles of thought,

I end up with a lot.

To navigate angles

Of obtuse triangles,

Leaves spinning perplexions

Of absolute fractions.

-Caleb Rabatin

We learn so much from others. If we don’t understand what a poem means, ask someone! Teach your students how to ask good questions when trying to understand about what the poem could mean. By immersing students into beautiful words, rhythms and ideas, they inevitably will have a better attitude toward poetry. No, not all of us will be poets. But we can all appreciate poetry.

Our creative writing books offer a few lessons that dabble in poetic practice. Through reading response lessons and mini writing exercises, students write Haiku, riddles, 5W poems and more. These fun and easy assignments gently introduce students the beautiful land of potpourri.

I hope you are inspired to bring more poetry into the classroom and into your children’s lives. Poetry lifts our spirits, brushes the doldrums away, and makes us laugh. Who would want to miss out on that as the school term is wrapping up for another year? Throw in a few poems on the last days of school for your students to enjoy before they depart for summer vacation. Happy reading and learning!

Jennifer Yoder

Heading photo credit: Unsplash

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