High school classes should break the stigma attached to poetry
We walk into English class, sit down at our desks, get handed a poem and are instructed to underline the metaphors and similes, the personification and imagery. Then comes the inevitable groan from somewhere in the classroom. As Common Core is coming into classrooms and poetry is moving out, verse is leaving behind a small and underappreciated legacy in high schools. There is a lack of poetry instruction in current curricula and a widespread distaste for it from students. However, schools can and should work to increase and improve poetry instruction and eliminate that ever-present groan.
Poetry is often overlooked by high school students as frivolous, boring and confusing. Students complain that poems hide meaning in veiled and superfluous words. This is because we have been led to believe that the correct way to read poetry is to search for meaning. This is the first problem. In our age of standardized testing and Common Core ideals, English class curriculums are putting a greater emphasis on expository writing and non-fiction texts while straying away from the beauty and complexity of poetry. Beauty and complexity are what distinguish poetry from prose and are just as worthy of discussion as the poem's meaning. Students need to learn how to analyze aspects of poetry beyond its literary devices and purpose and should be encouraged to present their own new interpretations. Through analyzing and discussing the many aspects and types of poetry, students will be encouraged to read closely and think profoundly.
Apart from holding vast room for fruitful interpretation and analysis and providing aesthetic pleasure, it's been proven that poetry can also benefit our emotional health. In a study done at Liverpool University, professors found that activity in the emotional and reflective parts of the brain increase when a person reads poetry. The researchers claimed that this is quite similar to the effect that reading self-help books has on the brain. That's not to say that some people aren't going to stop having negative feelings towards poetry; it just means that biologically our brains respond in a positive manner to it. Everyone, and especially teenagers, need an emotional boost once in a while. What more fulfilling and interesting way to get it than through reading a thought-provoking, funny or beautiful poem?
Reading poetry can also expand and deepen students' vocabularies. Through oral readings of poems, people are able to retain the words and their meanings in a more complex and comprehensible manner. The distinct rhythm of poetry helps to build language skills. And students who have better language skills are more likely to perform better in reading and writing. Dr. Jeanette Harris from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology states in a research report that when students read and perform poetry, their abilities to make inferences, draw conclusions and understand points of view are expanded. Put simply, their literacy skills improve.
Another experiment done on the subject by Jana Kay Slater found an even greater array of benefits from reading poetry. In a school, 17 classes received poetry education and three classes did not. What Slater found was that the students who read, wrote, interpreted and discussed poetry in school became more insightful and enthusiastic writers. They also came out of the lessons with better attitudes towards poetry than those who did not. The teachers reported seeing an increase in their students' confidence in expressing their own ideas and expansion in their ability to think and analyze critically. The teachers recognized the many benefits to implementing poetry into their curriculum as they watched their students' interest in reading, writing, performing and discussing poetry pique.
Those high school students who are adamant, self-proclaimed poetry-haters don't realize that it touches their lives every day through their favorite singers and bands. Popular music has rhythm and rhyming lyrics and is another form of poetry. Listening to or reading poetry doesn't have to be limited to the English classroom, contrary to the belief of many high school students. However, the instruction and discussion-friendly environment in a good English class is very important in allowing students to fully understand and appreciate a poem, and is, unfortunately, disappearing fast. So next time you're faced with that laborious task of reading and annotating a poem, take a second before being the one to groan. Open up to the idea that poetry can be gripping, hilarious and sometimes even life-altering. Then maybe—just maybe—it will stick around in English classes for a while longer.
Eleanor Linafelt. Hi there! I'm Eleanor, one of the Editors-in-Chief for SCO this year. I love reading books, playing cello and electric bass, and surfing and swimming at the beach. I am also an Emily Dickinson fanatic. More »