Teaching Poetry?

So recently I decided to drop my idea of becoming a teacher, for now, and focus on writing. But I wanted to talk bout how when I took my first teaching class we had to write a lesson plan and NO ONE wanted to teach poetry. I feel like oftentimes when I hear teachers or future educators talking about teaching poetry it’s with a little bit of fear and, or agitation. So I’ve thought a lot about how to teach someone to write poetry who has never written it before. I did end up writing a lesson plan introducing poetry and it began with a slam poetry video. Then I had printouts of a Tupac song and an Emily Dickinson song that both used rose imagery to point out how differently the language was and how many ways you can use any one image. My favorite part though was I was going to have the kids pick from a list of emotions, have them write an anecdote that made them feel that way in a journal, then circle all the “important words” and then copy those down onto another piece of paper. I would give them a moment to rearrange if they liked and add words they felt were necessary. So I’ve really liked this approach since. I feel like this would be a good way to introduce writing poetry to anyone who has never written poetry before. Of course this wouldn’t generate the best poetry, however it would be a good way to think about how language isolated can work without attaching it to an essay form.

Were there specific lesson that were really helpful when any of you started writing poetry? I think I mainly learned from reading poetry and learning to close-read.

Poetry Prompt: Define Your Own Word

Hey everybody, I thought I’d share a writing prompt for those of us that are looking for creative ways to fill up our portfolios!  I, personally, have a lot of made-up words unique to me that float around in my vocabulary and confuse friends and family members.  I thought it would be cool to write a poem that attempts to define those made-up words.  Here’s mine:

A “bubbin” is a tiny critter, soft

who scampers from shoulder to shoulder.

She is shared, co-parents for those silly feets

gnarled, delicate pink toes and scaly tail

but when she boggles, bruxes, buries herself in my shirts

buries herself in my shirts

Her name is a shortened version of the warmth

I keep secure in my chest,



I hope everyone has fun with this silly prompt, I know I did!

On Performing Poetry and Authorial Intent

So, I recently had my senior reading and chose to do poetry. It was pretty cool, if I do say so myself. It got me thinking about the performative aspects of poetry. When reading poetry out loud, it can completely change the poem, something that doesn’t happen in stories or essays. Poetry being read aloud is a very different experience from being read from the page. The poet controls exactly how the reader hears the poem, which brings up the issue of authorial intent. Usually, I hold the belief that authorial intent doesn’t mean anything. If the poet/writer cannot convey what they wish, then they are failing in a sense. It’s fine for readers to get different readings than intended from poems (something I myself often do with other people’s poetry), and since the poet usually isn’t there when a reader reads the poem, they can’t explain the intent. However, in readings/performance, poets can explain what they intended, which can end up stepping on the poem’s freeness and the listener’s interpretation. But when the poet is performing their poem, they often give background information on the poem, what they mean for it to mean, etc. Performing poetry also plays with the form. Not all read-aloud poetry is slam poetry, but people may think so. And by being read aloud, sometimes the messages and emotions may be magnified.

Film Poetry: Deforming the Surface pt.3

Following is the third and final installment of my essay on film poetry.

Read the first part here: http://cpoem.sunygeneseoenglish.org/2016/04/05/film-poetry-deforming-the-surface/

And the second part here:http://cpoem.sunygeneseoenglish.org/2016/04/17/film-poetry-deforming-the-surface-pt-2/


At first this definition film poetry might seem too self-serving or too far reaching because of a narrow focus on surfaces, what about film poets that want to plumb the depths? I’ll try to create a wider definition to satisfy everyone, but first I want to address my problems with the concept of “depth” in poetry and film. Physically it’s clear enough that poems and films are media intimate with thin surfaces, namely paper and film. It’s equally problematic, though, to talk about the meaning of the final product in terms of metaphorical depth. Typically the platitude “that’s deep” stops any real engagement with the work. Just as often what is analyzed as depth, like a thorough examination of a very specific thing, is really just an exploration of a manifold surface. The idea that a poet is uncovering something that can’t be seen, rather than adding light to something that hasn’t been sufficiently illuminated, is a dangerous one that very often leads to poetry completely disconnected from the audience. I would contend that the best work a poet can hope to do is creatively interfere and obscure what is already there, i.e. the “something burning in the projector” or a certain literary tradition. While new territories are very occasionally opened up almost all poetic work is inscribing the surface one’s own little part of that territory, as John Gallaher put it to me in an interview earlier this semester. Poetry that tries to conceive of itself otherwise, as if it has a grand mission of plumbing the unexplored depths, is overheated and disconnected. Practicing film poetry, turning over and over thought of words as a surface, words as film, creatively destroys the illusion of depth.

A slight modulation of Stein’s definition might make it a more widely agreeable one. If we talk about the tension between plot and rhythm, rather than subordination, the definition works just as well for Brakhage (think surface tension of water) as it does for poets working more concretely or more closely with narrative. This tension is present in every film poem because perfect translation doesn’t exist: words and images, even if they are very explicitly trying to represent the same thing, will always be at odds with one another, and it would be boring otherwise. All of the best film poems I’ve seen take advantage of this tension, making it into something creative by throwing it into greater relief. Drew Milne speaks to this when he writes of Olson’s work as “preferring disjunctions between media over any kind of harmony.” This may seem like too simple of a point to be worth mentioning, but acknowledging this basic, immutable distance is a humbling and important practice to undertake before developing the kinship.

With my first few film poems, which I screened at the Rochester Fringe Festival in October alongside the work of fellow Geneseo film poets Evan Goldstein and Margot Hughes, I was concerned with mitigating this tension for the sake of creating a “unified whole.” I wanted to create a chimera, a new entity very much itself, but with distinct components. The concept was somewhat misguided. After the two iterations of the project it was clear the components, or fragments, can never quite occupy the same body, and even repulse each other sometimes. The first was montage visuals with the poem spoken over it, which came off too much like an overlay for me. My last ditch attempt at the chimera was to delete the audio from the video and insert the text of the poem into the video, about one line for each image, in an attempt to give the images some sort of agency or advantage over the text, which I felt at the moment was overpowering the images because I had written the poems before I had even thought about the video project. However, the text was plain yellow for the sake of readability and never left the bottom third of the screen; I never let the images guide the placement of the text. Instead of a subordination the text actually effaced the images.

The problem was working against the tension instead of working with it, in addition to getting nervous about “which came first? The film or the poem?” It would be off the mark to say that a film poet should always create the film and poem simultaneously, or even that one medium will necessarily have more sway in the final product because it was conceived first. The question is ultimately useless because the pursuit of harmony in film poetry does very little for it when almost every aspect of the process is defined by abrasion, burning, obscuring, shooting and fragmentation. Film poetry is the abrasion and manipulation of surfaces, the examination of the new spaces created as film surface and text surface deform each other.

Fragmentation, Distillation, Transformation: How much context do we need?

In Gerry LaFemina’s article in the Writer’s Chronicle he writes about how writers of lyric poetry can use fragmentation to portray a feeling, often of grief. Lyric poetry he says is “noted for its brevity, its intensity ,its focus solely on a moment” and of course it is narrative. Toward the end of his article he speaks about poems that are focused on the experience and or feeling over the narrative details. He uses examples such as a Charles Wright poem, adding that Wright often “will establish narrative context in the title alone, and then let landscape and meditation do the work.” He then backs himself up with more poets who also use landscape and other actions and mediations to do the work of the poem.

Since we’ve been so focused on context this semester I was wondering how you all felt about this? I personally feel that there are poems that are exploring a feeling and that by demanding certain setting and or narrative details the reader may be focusing on not the wrong things, but could be refusing to see how the poem is doing a lot of the work already. LaFemina uses this poem by Christine Garren, “February Snow,” as an example because it uses winter snow falling, the ringing of a cell phone, and birds sleeping to drive its mood and narrative.


The roofs were snow covered, the powders blown across

the tree-limbs’ cross hatch.

In the parking lot below a person’s cell phone rings, clearly

like the bells of a church.

Sometimes it is beautiful, in some of the minutes

then ordinary again—

white dust on the tree-limbs and power lines—and on the attics.

The birds sleep.

In every room I walk the snow falls beyond the black glass—

isn’t that how it was in the beginning, throughout the rooms,

that feeling

of air in the midst of burial.

I feel that sometimes we forget that the pure emotion behind words can help drive a story and that being engaged in a poem can replace some, not all, context details. Obviously there are extremely nuanced things going on in this poem, mimicking the ideas of grief and the feeling of it. I feel that LaFemina ends his article on an excellent note with this quote by Jack Hitt;  “to every [poem] we bring unconscious scripts; as any given sentence [or line] unspools, we readjust the schema to make better sense of what we are hearing [or reading].” Thoughts?