Poetry News

It's Music to Our Ears: Kwame Alexander and Chris Colderley Explain Why Poetry Matters

By Harriet Staff

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At Language Magazine, Chris Colderley and Kwame Alexander discuss the value of reading poetry everyday and writing it, too. More:

My mother was a storyteller.
A weaver of funny tales, who,
with her voice and movement,
could bring joy by making words
dance off the page.

I tried to do the same thing for her when I was twelve.

I hadn’t saved my allowance so I couldn’t purchase a Mother’s Day card, let alone a gift. I decided to write a poem instead. It wasn’t great. (The first line was “I hate Mother’s Day.”) The funny thing was that when she read it, she simultaneously smiled and cried (a river). The rainbow of emotion on her face was incredibly inspiring. My little poem brought her so much joy, and that made me want to continue writing, to continue to make words dance. Since then, I’ve spent my life expressing the wonders and woes of life through verse.

A poem is a small but powerful thing. It has the power to reach inside you, to ignite something in you, and to change you in ways you never imagined. There is a feeling of connection and communion—with the author and with the subject—when we read a poem that articulates our deepest feelings. That connection can be a vehicle on the road to creativity and imagination. Poems are the human soul condensed for our pleasure. When done right, they can inspire us—in our classrooms and in our homes—to write our own journeys, to find our own voices.

Why We Need More Poetry
Northrop Frye (2002) claimed, “Poetry is the most direct and simple means of expressing oneself in words” (p. 58). Yet poetry is not given as much attention as it deserves. It is a genre that is neglected throughout elementary and high school, as well as in teacher-education courses (Certo, Apol, Wibbens, & Yoon, 2010). There are many reasons (and excuses) why more poetry is not in classrooms. Many teachers lack the confidence to teach poetry, because they lack the experience in and knowledge of the field. Reid (2006) says teachers “believe they have not been prepared to teach poetry. Lack of experience, lack of preparation, and lack of confidence quickly add up to lack of interest if not complete apathy” (p. 9). The disappearance of poetry from classrooms has generated a cycle of indifference among students (Parr & Campbell, 2006). Morag Styles, professor of children’s poetry at the University of Cambridge, suggests “the lack of confidence of generations of teachers in tackling poetry has become a self-fulfilling prophecy as pupils are not inspired to read it for pleasure” (2011).

During one of my very first author visits, I remember a high school English teacher warning me that her students may not be engaged in, or responsive to, my presentation, as many of them abhorred poetry. I asked her if she taught poetry, and she shared that she had taught it begrudgingly, as it was not her favorite either. I could relate.
When I was in high school, I was disinterested in the poetry we learned in AP English. It was inaccessible, unrelatable, and, quite frankly, boring. That is not to say that it was not valuable, because it was; these were the literary stalwarts of the canon, after all. True, we were learning, but our human souls weren’t being moved in some significant way. And if you want a student to be moved by poetry, if you want to be moved by poetry, then you must share poetry with which you connect on an emotional level. [...]

Continue at Language Magazine.

Originally Published: August 14th, 2015