April is Poetry Month! To celebrate, we are pleased to share "Poetic Voices," an article from our e-newsletter archives based on a lecture by Brian Yothers, Frances Spatz Leighton Professor of English and associate chair of the department of English at The University of Texas at El Paso, originally published in April 2017. During his presentation, which was first given at a "Teaching the American Literary Tradition" teacher professional development workshop in El Paso, Yothers discussed several strategies to engage students with poetry and examines the work of poets including Edgar Allan Poe, Phoebe Cary, Frederick Douglass, Emily Dickinson, and William Carlos Williams.
Poetry—to crib a line from Herman Melville's "The Coming Storm"—is something that, as teachers, we seek and we shun. I think we find ourselves drawn to it. I'm guessing that, for most of us, some part of the reason that we teach English has to do with the fact that we fell in love with a particular poem that made some kind of really important difference to us in our lives.
On the other hand, poetry can be perhaps the most anxiety-inducing genre to teach and, for students, the most anxiety-inducing genre to study, even as they often proclaim that they love it. There's this weird kind of love-fear dynamic that often appears with poetry. So, in an attempt to give us some strategies for how we might get through that, I'm going to talk a little bit about some of the ways I engage students with poetry and then discuss how we might apply the ideas that we draw from this strategy to different poems. More»