Reading, Writing, and Reciting Poetry:
Bringing Back Lost Arts!
By Maggie S. Hogan
Yes, your family can enjoy reading, writing, and reciting poetry. If you take the time to follow the suggestions in this article, you may find that poetry can become a glue that helps bind your family together.
Really! Consider this: Funny poems will get the family laughing, thoughtful ones provide conversation starters, and godly ones can unite a family in praise. Granted, not all children or teens are going to jump at the chance to sit down and recite poetry with Mom, Dad, and little brother, but persevere! Years later, grown siblings will look back and share laughs about poetry time … as they carefully preserve this tradition in their own families. Let’s look at the “whys” and the “hows” of cultivating this tradition in your family.
Why Memorize Poetry?
Memorizing or “learning by heart” was an important educational element for most of history until the mid-20th century when misguided educators decided that rote learning somehow dampened creativity and learning. On the contrary, the benefits to memorizing are numerous.
Let’s look at memorizing poetry specifically. Poetry has a rhythm, a sound, a music to it that gives us a gift of language awareness that we may otherwise miss. It heightens our sensitivity, our “feel” of language. Interplay of melody and music occurs—a combination of language and sound that broadens our experience with language. Our English improves as we absorb the natural rhyme and rhythm of a variety of well-written poems.
Note: This language exposure is especially important for children from low-literacy homes and those for whom English is not their native tongue. Susan Wise Bauer, in The Well-Educated Mind, states that memorizing poetry “builds into children’s minds the ability to speak and write and read English. Memorizing poetry internalizes the rhythmic, beautiful patterns of the English language.”
To those who believe that memorization is a drudgery to be avoided at all cost, a sure-fire way to “kill real learning,” we need only look back at all those who have gone before us who have not only memorized masterpieces but who have created masterpieces as well. Through the memorization of poetry and other great works, St. Augustine developed a phenomenal memory and a determined attention to detail, which is reflected in his Confessions. As a young boy, Shakespeare learned (as did his peers) by memorization as well. Memorization does not dampen the desire to create; rather, it enlarges the mind by exposing it to the best of the past and frees it to build on what has already been created.
Poetry gives children a language with which to articulate their thoughts, perceptions, and feelings. It can ignite their imaginations and transport them to other times and places. There is an “Aha!” moment that comes when we recognize a truth, an experience, a description that someone else has expressed through poetic words and which expresses exactly what we have thought or felt or seen. There is a sweet comfort in knowing that someone somewhere has felt what you’ve felt and can express it in a way that is meaningful and true.
Poetry Memorization Tips
- Write the poem you want to memorize by hand. Write the stanzas on index cards or sticky-notes. Post them in conspicuous places.
- Memorize the poem with a partner.
- Read the poem aloud into a recorder. Play it in the car, at bedtime, at mealtimes.
- Say the poem aloud several times throughout the day.
- Say the poem aloud every day.
- If the poem has a good rhythm or rhyme scheme, recite it by using your body:
- Stomp your feet
- Clap your hands
- Jump in time
- Bounce a ball in time with the words
- Draw a picture to illustrate the poem.
- Set the poem to music and sing it.
- Consistently review previously memorized material.
Why Recite Poetry?
The very best way to dig into poetry is to read it aloud. Trust me, this is important. There are exceptions; some poetry is much more visual than auditory, such as “shape” poems or works by E. E. Cummings. Most poems, though, are meant to be spoken. Here are eight simple steps to improving your recitation skills.
Poetry Recitation Tips
- Practice shows!
- Be completely prepared and well rehearsed.
- Know what the words of the poem mean.
- Stand up straight.
- Look relaxed and confident (even if you don't feel that way).
- Establish eye contact right away with the audience.
- Be sure to look at them as much as you can during the presentation.
- Use your voice pitch (both high and low tones) to convey emotions as appropriate.
- Use pauses to improve the meaning and/or dramatic impact of the piece.
- Speak clearly and distinctly.
- Practice any words you have trouble pronouncing so you do not stumble over them.
- Know what the words mean.
- Speak loudly enough to be heard by all audience members during the entire presentation.
- Be sure not to let your voice trail off at the end of lines or at the conclusion of the piece.
- Your facial expressions and body language should generate a strong interest and enthusiasm about the topic.
- If you look bored, your audience certainly will be.
- Have fun!
Why Write Poetry?
There are numerous good reasons to write poetry. Here are just a few of them. You will:
- Better appreciate poetry when you have an understanding of what goes into creating it.
- Increase your vocabulary by looking for just the right words to use.
- Look at the natural world with a more observant eye.
- Delight in using words in new, creative ways.
- Possibly find that you are a natural poet!
Not everyone is a naturally gifted writer, and not everyone wishes to write poetry. However, acrostics, bio-poems, and “shape poems” are all appealing, easy-to-learn forms. Gather everyone around the table and give these a try!
Tips for Writing Poetry
- Use interesting words.
- Use a variety of words.
- Use words with strong images.
- Have a thesaurus and dictionary on hand.
The Acrostic Poem
The word acrostic comes from the Greek words acros (“outermost”) and stichos (“line of poetry”). This is a form of poetry in which the first letters of the lines, read downwards, form a word or phrase. For example, in the following short acrostic, the vertical word is CAT.
Always jumping, pouncing, playing
Takes naps in the sun.
Did you know that the acrostic style of poetry originated in ancient times and was commonly used in the Psalms of the Bible? Psalm 119 is not only the longest chapter in Scripture, but it is also the longest acrostic in the Bible, using every letter of the Hebrew alphabet. (Unfortunately, the lines do not translate into English as acrostics.)
First, write your name (first, middle, last, or nickname) down the left-hand side a piece of paper. Your chosen name must be at least five letters long. Here is an example:
Now, find three or four words that begin with each letter of your name and which describe you. Here is my example:
Messy, moody, mischievous, melancholy
Always active, always adventurous.
Gregarious, gifted, gabby,
Generous and genuinely germophobic.
Illuminated, idealist, idiosyncratic.
Easily distracted, and that’s the End.
Try to avoid selecting the simplest words or the words that first come to mind. Take time to look for options in the thesaurus and dictionary. Think about what you really want to say. It’s also amusing to switch this one up a bit by writing it in the negative:
“Maggie Is Not”
Malicious, malevolent, morose … etc.
If you work carefully on word choice, you probably will get the idea of how poets must work hard to find just the right words to express their thoughts. Consider this: In these acrostics, we did not attempt to add rhyme or rhythm, stanzas, alliteration, metaphors, or any number of poetic devices. Just imagine now how much a writer might need to consider while crafting a more complicated poem!
The Biography Poem
Another form of poetry is often called either a biography or a “Who Am I?” poem. Many different formulas exist; you can even make up your own. Think of it as playing the word game called Mad Libs, except the end result will be a poem.
My Biography Poem (Give this poem your own title.)
Line 1: Your first name
Line 2: Four words that describe you
Line 3: Child of …
Line 4: Builder of …
Line 5: Who dreams …
Line 6: Who needs …
Line 7: Who gives …
Line 8: Who wonders …
Line 9: Who fears …
Line 10: Who wants to see …
Line 11: Resident of (your city)
Line 12: Another name to describe yourself
Another appealing form of poetry is the diamante. It takes its name from the Italian word for diamond and is written in a diamond shape. It doesn’t need to rhyme, but each line does have certain requirements, as follows:
Line 1: Title topic (noun)
Line 2: Two adjectives related to line 1
Line 3: Three action words related to line 1
Line 4: A four-word phrase about either line 1 or 7 or two words about line 1 and two words about line 7
Line 5: Three action words related to line 7
Line 6: Two adjectives related to line 7
Line 7: “Opposite” of line 1
The original diamante form requires that the last line be a word that is the opposite of the first line. The lines in between should describe either the starting word or its opposite. For example, I use cats and dogs as my opposites in my poem titled “Felines and Canines”:
Pouncing, clawing, scratching
Claws, teeth, paws, tails
Barking, running, licking
Your shape should look like this:
__________ (line 1)
____________ ____________ (line 2)
____________ ____________ ____________ (line 3)
_________ __________ __________ ________ (line 4)
____________ ____________ ____________ (line 5)
____________ ____________ (line 6)
____________ (line 7)
Memorizing, writing, and reciting poetry are in danger of becoming lost arts. In past generations, poetry recitals were a popular form of recreation. Now, with the popularity of television and the Internet, we rely far less on our ability to amuse ourselves; instead, we expect others to keep us amused. Let’s reclaim this fabulous form of social and intellectual entertainment!
Maggie Hogan is an author and publisher who is easily distracted by all things book-related. She lives in Delaware with her husband, Bob, just minutes away from their three precious granddaughters. The barn on their property houses Bright Ideas Press, dedicated to bringing practical, Christ-centered materials to the homeschool market. She is the co-author of A Young Scholar’s Guide to Composers and the upcoming Young Scholar’s Guide to Poets and Poetry.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free online or read it on the go and download the free apps to read the magazine on your mobile devices.
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