Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Introduction to Poetry" by Billy Collins

For the first day of National Poetry Month 2009, there is no better way to start than with Billy Collins, poet extraordinaire and former Poet Laureate of the United States. While he has written many great poems, his "Introduction to Poetry" is one of my favorites.

This poem brings to the forefront the problem that many an English teacher faces: how does one teach about poetry without beating the life out from it? The speaker wants his or her audience to interact with poetry in a meaningful way, which is what many English teachers want from their students. However, sometimes teachers' best intentions get in the way of their ultimate goal. For a long time, students have been asked to figure out exactly what a poem means and what devices the author employs to convey this meaning. Between looking at the use of assonance, slant rhyme, and metaphor and trying to decide how a poet's mother issues influenced his or her writing, we often forget that poetry is something to be savored, not something that should be beaten with a hose.

During one of his terms as Poet Laureate, Collins started Poetry 180 to encourage teachers to share poetry with their high school students for the sheer enjoyment of sharing poetry. Without the pressure of literary terms or standardized test questions, Collins hoped to make poetry enjoyable for a new generation of students.

With this in mind, here's to National Poetry Month 2009. Let us aim for enjoying the poetry along the way.