Thursday, November 16, 2017

NCTE: Poetry + Humor & Hope

I'm presenting at the annual conference of the National Council of Teachers of English this week in St. Louis. This is always such a great conference full of people who love books, reading, language, and POETRY! (If you've never attended, I urge you to consider it. I've been going nearly every year for 35 years!) This year, I'm presenting along with Janet Wong, Allan Wolf, and Chris Harris. Our topic is Mission Reboot: Engaging Students Through the Poetry of Humor and Hope. Here's our session proposal with some great background info. 

We are experiencing a renaissance in poetry with greater interest in poets, poetry books, poetry jams and slams, poetry websites, National Poetry Month, and more. Why? What does poetry do for us? Cullinan, Scala, and Schroder (1995) remind us that “poetry is a shorthand for beauty; its words can cause us to tremble, to shout for joy, to weep, to dance, to shudder or to laugh out loud.” In particular, young people respond immediately to the humor and relevance of contemporary poetry. They enjoy the obvious slapstick laugh, as well as dark and twisted humor, witty wordplay, playful puns, and everything in between. In fact, you’ll find Shel Silverstein’s landmark books, Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, and Falling Up, in the top 100 best-selling children’s books of all time. Plus, early studies of children’s poetry preferences found humorous poetry at the top of the list. Medical research shows us that laughter has many positive physiological and psychological effects on us—reducing stress, increasing infection-fighting antibodies, improving blood flow, and enhancing wellness, relaxation, mood, and positive outlook. We can all benefit from the leaven of laughter through poetry.

But poetry also offers students deeply felt emotions, powerful personal experiences, and nuggets of hope and belief. Poet Margarita Engle writes, I am haunted by stories about people who make hopeful decisions in situations that seem hopeless” and poet Joyce Sidman notes that poetry offers “the chance to ease the heart.” These poets and others speak of their lives, of their humanity, of their humor. Students of all cultural backgrounds deserve to know their names and hear their words. Research commissioned through the Poetry Foundation noted that most poetry readers (80%) first encounter poetry as children, at home or in school. We can help students establish a pattern of connecting poetry with their lives and internalizing poems through genuine poetry talk. In her seminal work, The Reader, The Text, The Poem (1994), Louise Rosenblatt underscored that multidimensional nature of the reading process. As Michelle Obama, an avid poetry lover, reminds us, Think about how you feel when you read a poem that really speaks to you… and you feel understood, right? I know I do. You feel less alone. I know I do. You realize despite all our differences, there are so many human experiences and emotions that we share. . . And even if you don't grow up to be a professional poet, I promise that what you learn through reading and writing poetry will stay with you throughout your life.”

I hope to share more info AFTER our presentation, but meanwhile, here are some nuggets from my part. (And if you're at the conference and can join us, we're in Rooms 120-121 at the Convention Center.)

Janet and I always like to give things away at our sessions, so this time we've made our own magnetic poetry kits. (We'll also have Laffy Taffy [= humor] and sunflower seeds [= hope]!)  Here's the lowdown on our DIY poetry kits:

Obviously, Allan Wolf and Chris Harris and Janet will have much more to add and I look forward to learning from them too! More to come... 

Now head on over to Rain City Librarian, where Jane is gathering the Poetry Friday crowd!