Eighth Grade

A surprise to no one, my introduction to poetry was music. My eighth grade English teacher was the first teacher I had who taught poetry in his class. He explained poetry to us as music. Mr Mo was awesome, and he let us listen to our iPods while we wrote poetry because he said the music would inspire us. I was so happy to be allowed to have my iPod in class, that I took these poetry assignments seriously. This introduction to poetry made me have a huge focus on sound in my poems. I am admittedly nervous for the class to read my poem out loud because it won’t sound like it does in my head. That’s a good thing, it’ll let me learn how it sounds to other people at least.

Because I took the poetry assignments seriously, Mr Mo decided to invite me to perform in the high school poetry slam. That was a huge deal to me as a lowly eighth grader. I didn’t win, but I got to hang out with a bunch of high school poets. Basically I thought I was the coolest kid alive. I threw myself into poetry after that. I was a Button Poetry and Brave New Voices addict. It wasn’t until tenth grade that I really encountered classic poetry and forms other than free-verse and slam poetry.

I stopped writing poetry almost entirely when I got to college. Nearly four years later, I’m in two poetry writing classes. I’ve learned that my introduction to poetry back in middle school has definitely stuck with me. I still write all my poems while listening to music. I also tend to read my poem out loud as I write it to see how each syllable and phoneme sounds exactly how I want it to. The difference between now and then is that I am slowly starting to care about how the poem looks on the page. The first poem I submitted for workshop has the beginning of every line capitalized and little to no punctuation. That wasn’t on purpose. It didn’t occur to me to care about how it looks. The look of a poem is something that doesn’t matter in slam poetry. I never thought that anyone would read my poems. In the past, people have only ever heard me read my own poems in slams. It’s interesting to think back to eighth grade with Mr Mo, my beat up composition notebook, and my iPod Shuffle. It makes me feel really nostalgic.

5 Replies to “Eighth Grade”

  1. This is a lovely narrative to share in, Hannah, and also a revealing one, in that poetry doesn’t have to be associated with music (Ezra Pound saw poetry as the meeting of image, music, and idea; to the extent that’s right, poets often hew towards one of the three more than the others, and in your case it might be music.). I’ve curiosities about how the kind of music affects the poems written in both form and atmosphere, although I’m also interested in that pure value of sound that you’re aware of in that nervousness about the way the class reads a poem out loud.

    With that in mind, you might find something interesting in Louis Zukofsky’s experimental poetry, because Zukofsky described poetry as “upper limit music; lower limit speech” – a poem aspires, then, to be music, and tries to get beyond anything we could just say (spoken word is more than being spoken, in that vein); his son went out to be a high-level performance violnist, and music is all over Zukofsky’s poems. And in a different vein, Christian Bok’s Eunoia is written in five sections, each dominated by a vowel and comprising words based around that vowel – it’s a manifestation of sound before sense.

    Looking forward to seeing where sound and its possibilities take you this semester!

  2. It really is a shame that the Geneseo campus doesn’t really have anything close to poetry slams hosted by the poetry club/English department/etc.; if they do, they certainly haven’t been advertised very well.

    I already know that you’re a master of curating Spotify playlists, but have you ever tried “Boil the Frog”? It’s a website where you put into any two tracks – the more different they are from one another, the better – and it links them together with songs that start off being very similiar to the first song and gradually shift into being more like the second, so you get this gradient of songs that link your suggestions together. Might be a fun way to see how music flows slowly from one genre into another; and thus, your poetry can do the same?

    1. I wish we had a real poetry slam. I’m not an open mic type-of-person, and that is the only thing we seem to have much of. I haven’t heard of Boil the Frog, but that sounds so cool! I will look into it!

  3. Hannah, it was so nice to hear where your origins in poetry came from. I can relate to this as you started to become familiar with it in high school by the help of a teacher as so did I. I can also tell that you are a fan of music by how you wear your earbuds around your neck every class. Though you never mentioned your favorite type of music or what you tend to listen to, I would like to recommend a playlist I like to use while doing homework and sometimes write on Spotify called “Jazz for Study.” I find it very calming and helps me focus when I have to get a lot done!

    I was intrigued by some research I found online about the benefits and associations of poetry and music. It has been studied that children’s poetry and nursery rhymes are closely linked and the origins are also closely linked. I found this article online and can be read here https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jun/07/cerys-matthews-poetry-and-music-closely-think

    It sounds like Mr. Mo was a greatly influential teacher during your high school years. Though this is not a credible source, but I feel like it would be interesting if you wrote a poem about Mr. Mo for workshop, a writing exercise, or even on your own. I feel like it would be a nice way to express your gratitude and even make an “Ode to Mr. Mo” just a thought but might be a great source!

    1. Thank you for the article! It was a really interesting read. I never mention my favorite genre of music because I don’t have one. I listen to a huge variety. It would be easier to say the only genre I don’t like is country music (unless it’s a female singer, singing about how she hates men). I have in my own subtle way begun telling the class about music that inspires me by recommending songs on the workshopped poems.

      I like the idea of an “Ode to Mr Mo!” Thank you for that idea!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.