Monday, March 14, 2005

Apple + Gravity = Poetry?

As National Poetry Month (and Young People's Poetry Week therein) are just around the bend, I've been soliciting for opportunities to reach out to local grammar schools and help keep poetry fun. Last year, with a great deal of help from some very generous artists, I did a basic 1-hour Introduction to Poetry for 3rd through 5th and 6th through 8th graders. It was extraordinary fun, one of the most rewarding things I've ever done, and I'll be using that same workshop this year at (at least) one other school. But... that intro isn't me.

Well, maybe it's me, but it's also a dozen or a hundred other people, most with more teaching experience or more literature experience or both. I admit it: I'm more than a little self-conscious about representing myself as a poet and teacher when there are so many good poets and teachers around; I am primarily a technical professional, an engineer - at my center, that's what I do, and that's what I'm good at. What teaching experience I have is for the most part with high school and college students considering careers in science and engineering.

So I don't know why I didn't see this before: Poetry By The Numbers; poems in response to science. Think: Science fairs are among the biggest events in grammar schoolers' lives. What are the things that younger kids are most impressed by? Simple experiments: vinegar and baking soda, putting out a candle with carbon dioxide. And math tricks: seeing how to tell a number is divisible by 9, learning the secret of the count-the-squares puzzle. And the length of Venus's year, and the magic of chlorophyll, and how a spider eats, and the cork-and-needle compass, and what makes a volcano and on and on and on. What better inspiration than these?

And, more's the joy, maybe I can connect poetry to something else in their lives, something they treasure and remember, so that when later they are forced to recite "The Charge of the Light Brigade" in front of their snickering classmates, maybe they'll remember poetry is more than "the valley of death".

I'll talk more about class soon, as I finish writing up the outline. Sneak preview: It relies on a terrific anthology.

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