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Dedicated to Teachers

The Heinemann Fellows: Amy Greenbaum Clark On Teaching Poetry

Amy Greenbaum Clark is a Heinemann Fellow with the 2014–2016 class, and has been an educator for 15 years. In today's post, Amy recalls writing her first poems and how they shaped her approach to other forms of writing.

by Amy Greenbaum Clark

Presented with the opportunity to conduct action research in my classroom as a Heinemann Fellow, I knew immediately where my heart would lead me. Poetry has been my passion since junior high when I started writing poems. They were poems of seventh-grade melodrama and an angsty twelve-year-old’s desire to be independent—and not very good. It didn’t matter.

I wrote poems. No one had to tell me I could. I had read poetry for as long as I could remember. I also equated song lyrics with poetry. Certain songs felt to me as if the songwriter had lived my experience, peeked inside my heart and stolen its secrets. I wanted to create a similar kind of “music.”

I felt relief when the words were no longer within. I was sharing myself in a form that invited me in, that didn’t restrict or tell me I was wrong. It was a liberating and very personal playground. I reveled in this quiet space, respected the art of it, and worked diligently to improve my craft. During my senior year my twentieth-century-literature teacher discovered that I liked to write poetry and asked to read my work. Turning my notebook over to her was terrifying but at the same time freeing. She didn’t edit the poems I’d written but talked with me about them and about the craft of writing. Suddenly I was writing more—and striving to write better. Not just better poems, but better essays as well.

I am a high school teacher now, and poetry has become a critical part of my practice, a core from which everything else emanates. Recently, I’ve had the magnificent opportunity to teach the same group of students over a period of years, thus witnessing a growth in their writing I’d not been able to see during just one year with them. I taught these students the required English courses but also designed a poetry elective for those who were interested. What I found was that my students learned to appreciate the free space that poetry offered and soon became more eager to write in all forms.

Writing is subjective: We can’t ignore the ethos of teaching poetry—as if the various forms of writing don’t inform one another!

I began to wonder. Why do so many of us hesitate to teach poetry? Why do we question the validity of asking students to work in this form simply because it often feels too subjective to evaluate? How might the study and composition of poetry affect student writing in all genres? How might I implement a curriculum that meets mandates without ignoring the importance of poetry?

Writing is subjective: We can’t ignore the ethos of teaching poetry—as if the various forms of writing don’t inform one another!

Sure, most of my students won’t become professional poets. But what if exploring the freedom and sparseness offered by the form provides the means to better understand writing well in any mode?

I am therefore seeking to discover how the study and composition of poetry impacts student writing in other forms, particularly the academic essay. I’ll investigate focus, movement, word choice/diction, imagery, evidence, sentence structure/variety, and using the form itself to create meaning. I believe that in the process these writers will develop a clear and unique voice.

I’m excited to discover more about teaching writing and eager to understand more deeply the role poetry can play in simply teaching writing well.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Amy Greenbaum Clark is an English teacher at Christ Episcopal School in Covington, LA. Her action research focuses on the ways study and composition of poetry impact other modes of student writing, particularly narrative and scholarly essay writing.

Please visit the Heinemann Fellows page to learn more.

Topics: Heinemann, Heinemann Fellows, Amy Greenbaum Clark, Curriculum, High School, Poetry

Date Published: 02/18/15

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