POETRY AND LOSS: TWO LESSONS

LESSON 1

Source of Poems:

Favorite Poem Project videos and Americans' Favorite Poems.

Teacher's Reflections:

Many students run into difficulty with poetry because they believe that a single poem has one purpose, one true meaning, and/or speaks only to one person. By viewing the Favorite Poem videos and then seeking poems significant to them, students can see and experience the various personal meanings ordinary people find in poetry. The lesson aims to help students consider poems in a deeper, richer way.

Teaching Ideas:

(The teacher may choose to begin this lesson by reading to the class Elizabeth Bishop's wonderful villanelle "One Art," which begins with the line: "The art of losing isn't hard to master.")

Part One: Free write

o Write about a significant experience in which you lost something or someone, or you were lost. The "something" can be anything: money, a pet, a shoe — but aim to record a loss you felt deeply; the "someone" can be a friend or family member and can refer to separation or changes in a relationship, or to a death.

  • What is the overall feeling you have about this experience?

  • What, if anything, helped you through this time?

  • What happened later? Did your life change?

Part Two: Favorite Poem Videos

Watch four Favorite Poem segments:

"Facing It"   by Yusef Komunyakaa   read by Michael Lythgoe
"We Real Cool"   by Gwendolyn Brooks   read by John Ulrich
"Sonnet 29"   by William Shakespeare   read by Daniel McCall
"The Holy Longing"   by Johann Wolfgang   read by Olivia Milward

Questions for discussion:

What types of loss did each person address? (e.g., loss of innocence, loss of loved ones, loss of identity).

  • How were these losses similar? How different?

  • How has poetry helped this person through his or her loss?

  • What are the connections between the person and the poem?

Part Three: Student Reflection

  • Take another look at your free write. Could poetry have helped you through your loss? Why? How?

  • Through additional searching and reading, choose a poem that speaks to your loss. Become comfortable with the poem; write it out in your own handwriting, read it aloud and be prepared to read it aloud for the class.

  • Why did you choose this poem? What is the connetion between it and you? Write about your choice.

  • Create a poem, using your free write as a base, but concentrating on making forceful and memorable lines and honing out the best images. Refine your poem still further. How does this new poem express your experience in a way different from your free write?

Lesson by Lauren Manganiello, Wilmington High School, Wilmington, MA

LESSON 2

Poems:

From the Favorite Poem videos and Americans' Favorite Poems.

"'Out, Out — '" by Robert Frost
"The Holy Longing" by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (tr. Robert Bly)
"We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks
"Facing It" by Yusef Komunyakaa

Teacher's Reflections:

  • Poetry can capture a life and say something about a person that an obituary cannot.

  • Remembering the dead (funeral/memorial service) is a "daily life" use of poetry.

Teaching Ideas:

1. Show the following FPP videos:

"'Out, Out — '" by Robert Frost
Read by Elizabeth Wojtusik, Teaching Artist, Humarock, Massachusetts

"The Holy Longing" by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (tr. Robert Bly)
Read by Olivia Milward, Retired Teacher, San Francisco, California

"We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks
Read by John Ulrich, Student, South Boston, Massachusetts

"Facing It"
Read by Mike Lythgoe, Foundation Director, Washington, DC

2. Students can choose the video segment and corresponding poem they wish to work with for their break-out groups. Group discussion: issues brought up in chosen segment and poem.

3. General discussion: How do the poems serve as memorials? Discuss the difference between memorializing someone and grieving for someone. For whom do we create this memorials and associations? Consider elegy, eulogy and obituary. What information is contained in each form? What's the purpose of each form?

4. Write an obituary for a character in "'Out, Out — '" "We Real Cool" or "Facing It"

5. Write an elegiac poem based on an actual obituary.

Lesson by Frances Ashe, Kate Oneschuk (Holliston High School, Holliston, MA), Monica Hiller (Watertown High School, Watertown, MA) and Allyson Sklover (Boston Latin Academy, Dorchester, MA)

 
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