What Role Does Poetry Play in Your Life?


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How do you feel when you read a poem? Does it make a difference if you have to read a poem for school rather than for pleasure? Do you ever seek out poems on your own or share poems on social media?

In “How Poetry Shakes Up the National Desk’s Morning Meetings,” Marc Lacey writes about a new tradition to read a poem at the beginning of meetings:

When the National desk gets together to discuss stories, it can be a grim half-hour. We dissect natural disasters. We reconstruct mass shootings. We delve into political scandals and all manner of domestic tumult. Recently, though, we added a new feature to our morning meetings aimed at inspiring us and boosting our creativity before we embark on another long day of editing the news.

We read a poem.

I got the idea from an unlikely source: my son’s high school English teacher, Anne Baney. During parent-teacher night, she explained how she reads a poem at the beginning of every class from “Poetry 180,” an anthology of contemporary poems compiled by Billy Collins, the former poet laureate of the United States. The room turns quiet when she reads, she told us. If she ever forgets to start off the day with a poem, her students remind her. They like it.

And, it turns out, so do we.

While there was some initial eye rolling when I first suggested the idea, Morrigan McCarthy, a photo editor and former poetry major, got it. She started us off with a poem called “The Book of Hand Shadows,” by Marianne Boruch. It began like this:

An eagle and a squirrel. A bull and a sage.
All take two hands, even the sheep
whose mouth is a lever for nothing, neither
grass nor complaint. The black swan’s
mostly one long arm, bent
at the elbow but there’s always feathers
to fool with.

“The magic of poetry,” Morrigan remarked, “is that it jolts your mind into thinking about a subject or theme in an unexpected way. That’s exactly what we want to be doing on the National desk: looking every day for smart and interesting ways to tackle the most important stories in this country.”

The article continues:

Each new day brings a fresh jolt. Lauretta Charlton, the editor of Race/Related, our team covering race and identity, chose Wordsworth’s “The World Is Too Much With Us”:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

Just the other day, I took the editors to Harlem through Langston Hughes’s poem by that name:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore —
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over —
like a syrupy sweet?

To leaven the mood on a Friday, Julie Bloom, a deputy National editor, read a poem about a runaway bagel (“The Bagel,” by David Ignatow):

Faster and faster it rolled,
with me running after it
bent low, gritting my teeth,
and I found myself doubled over
and rolling down the street
head over heels, one complete somersault
after another like a bagel
and strangely happy with myself.

The playwright Sarah Ruhl wrote an Opinion piece reflecting on Broadway theaters closing because of the coronavirus outbreak, “Broadway Is Closed. Write Poems Instead.” She writes:

During the 1590s plague, when the theaters were shut, William Shakespeare apparently chose to write poems instead. From his “Venus and Adonis,” penned while the playhouses were closed and writers were essentially quarantined, came this somewhat strange compliment: “The plague is banished by thy breath.” Should we theater people — writers, players and audiences alike — be staying home now and writing and reading poetry as a curative for the next month? Books, unlike group events, carry no germs.

My own children’s school has closed indefinitely, and I’ve been encouraging them to learn a new poetic form every day they are at home. So far, only my son has written a sonnet, an ode to candy. The final couplet: “Now I must eat you with a splendid grace/Remember how I put you in my solemn face.” But they all just looked at me with raised eyebrows when I mentioned a villanelle.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • How do you know if you like a poem? Does it make you feel certain emotions? Does it make you think about things differently in your life or in the world? Or, do you prefer silly or ironic poems that make you laugh?

  • What is one of your favorite poems? How did you discover this poem? Did someone share it with you? What emotions, images or thoughts does this poem bring up for you? If you choose to share the poem in the comments, be sure to include the poet’s name and why the poem is meaningful to you.

  • In the past several years, there are more poets who have become popular on social media, such as Rupi Kaur, who posts poems to Instagram. Do you think that poems published on the internet are more accessible or interesting for readers? How do you think online poetry has changed the art form of poetry?

  • How do you think poems can inspire us or change the way we view the world? When you experience hardship or pain, do you ever turn to poetry? Are there other art forms or creative expression that you seek out or create in difficult moments?

  • Do you ever write poems? If so, what kinds of things do you enjoy writing about? What inspires you?

Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.

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