Closer Readings Commentary

National Poetry Month: The Power of Poetry

A complete poem is one where an emotion finds the thought and the thought finds the words.

—Robert Frost

Every April since 1996, The Academy of American Poets issues an annual invitation to all Americans to celebrate the vital place of poetry in our culture National Poetry Month through its EDSITEment-reviewed website Among the Academy’s stated goals are “to make poetry a more important part of the school curriculum and bring poets and poetry to the public in immediate and innovative ways.” In support of National Poetry Month, EDSITEment has assembled a garland of new multimedia resources that enhance its poetry lessons, allowing your students to hear the poetry and experience the power of some of America’s most celebrated original voices in the hope that they will emulate them by writing their own American originals.

Robert Frost

As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s inauguration, we also remember Robert Frost’s historic recitation of “The Gift Outright” — the first time a poet was called upon to speak at such an event. EDSITEment-reviewed Academy of American Poets’ Poetry and Power: Robert Frost's Inaugural Reading details the little known backstory of this 1961 dedication. EDSITEment's Presidential Inaugurations: A Capital Parade on a Cold Winter’s Day discusses Frost's inspiration for the original poem he wrote for this occasion -“Dedication” available through the American Memory Project at the Library of Congress. Afterward, Frost gave the President the following advice: "Be more Irish than Harvard. Poetry and power is the formula for another Augustan Age. Don't be afraid of power." To which Kennedy quipped on the bottom of his thank-you letter, "It's poetry and power all the way!"

EDSITEment offers students insight into the power of Frost’s (and other poets’) craft in Poems that Tell a Story: Narrative and Persona in the Poetry of Robert Frost. His most famous poem, "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening" narrates an invitingly simple story that draws students into deepening questions and mysteries. Students write their own journal entries and build on narrative hints in poems chosen from an online selection of his works. Another deceptively simple poem, the subject of EDSITEment lesson Robert Frost's "Mending Wall": A Marriage of Poetic Form and Content, conveys the story of two neighbors who meet and converse over a traditional New England stone wall in need of springtime repair. Frost’s whimsical ride on “Birches” is taken up in EDSITEment’s Recognizing Similes: Fast as a Whip and accompanying interactives “Birches” and “Birches, Too” that help students grasp figurative language. Students listen to the poet himself in a recording of “The Road Not Taken” on the Academy of American Poets’ website. Primary source images of people and places near and dear to his heart complete A Frost Bouquet from the Special Collections Digital Center at the University of Virginia.


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Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson, better known in her hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts, as a gardener than a poet reveals the power of her poetry in wit and subtlety of insight. “The truth must dazzle gradually,” as she remarks in “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” And yet, her lines can also entertain younger students with their sparkle and whimsy. EDSITEment lesson for Grades 3–5 introduces these young readers to Dickinson’s unique qualities in Leap, plashless”: Emily Dickinson & Poetic Imagination

Older students forming their own identity will identify with the poet in EDSITEment’s Letters from Emily Dickinson: 'Will you be my preceptor? Her dialogues with different confidants offer an instructive model for teens who often struggle to develop a distinctive voice and then modify that voice for different audiences. Literature circles will find the Academy of American Poet’s Guide to Dickinson invaluable along with The Poetry of Emily Dickinson a selection on the National Endowment for the Art’s Big Read lineup this April, which highlights historic sites associated with her and links to a host of additional materials, including this radio show.


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Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman

The Academy ranks Langston Hughes as America’s most popular historic poet. In EDSITEment’s The Poet's Voice: Langston Hughes and You, students write journal entries and discuss poems to learn about the qualities that make Hughes's voice distinctive, forceful, and memorable. Student’s analyze Hughes powerful images within his poem, Dreams, along with several other poets in Introducing Metaphors Through Poetry. EDSITEment also features a lesson linking Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman, America’s great poet of democracy, Walt Whitman and Langston Hughes: Poems for a Democracy.

Students wanting to delve deeper into Walt Whitman’s iconic verse should turn to EDSITEment’s Walt Whitman's Notebooks and Poetry: the Sweep of the Universe. The American Civil War, which Whitman so poignantly captured in his notebooks and poems, is highlighted in EDSITEment’s new feature, Literature of the American Civil War. Selected EDSITEment resources provide invaluable background on the poet including the Whitman Archive and a new NEH-funded American Experience special on Whitman, which can be viewed online at the American Experience website. Here, students may share their views on whom they consider the quintessential American poet to be.


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Chicago Poets: Carl Sandburg and Gwendolyn Brooks

EDSITEment lesson Carl Sandburg’s ‘Chicago’: Bringing a Great City Alive provides students a vision of the emerging industrial giant that informed the poet’s “stormy, husky, brawling" poem, Chicago, to model his figurative language for evoking place as they compose their own descriptive piece. Students use EDSITEment Launchpad Reading Carl Sandburg’s Chicago to independently examine primary sources, photographs, and maps that depict Chicago at the turn of the century, to make predictions, and then, investigate Carl Sandburg’s literary techniques such as personification and apostrophe that make this poem vivid.

Chicagoan Gwendolyn Brook’s “We Real Cool,” is a favorite with the high school set. EDSITEment celebrates this poet’s evocation of youthful bravado in The Impact of a Poem's Line Breaks: Enjambment and Gwendolyn Brooks. Students will relate to the video of (Boston) “Southie” John Ulrich reading "We Real Cool," in the EDSITEment-reviewed Voices and Visions’ Favorite Poems Project. Another rendering of the poem, an audio clip of Brooks own expressive recitation, with her inspiration for this keen snapshot of adolescent rebellion, is found on the Academy’s website.


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Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop’s vision and language unfold ever-new, powerful mysteries of the world for students to explore. NEH’S Humanities magazine article, “A Poet’s Inner Eye,” speculates on the inspiration for Bishop’s masterful portrayal of “The Fish.” Students will enjoy perusing Vassar College’s repository of Bishop’s notebooks, which includes many references to piscine imagery. (This poem was written at her Key West Florida home, which is now a literary landmark.) Elizabeth Bishop is one of twelve American poets featured on Spotlight on Voice and Visions, funded by NEH, on the EDSITEment-reviewed website, where you can view video clips of Bishop reading her poem, “One Art” along with Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, and Walt Whitman.


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EDSITEment Lessons on Poetry and Poetry Writing


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EDSITEment-Reviewed Websites on Poetry and Poetry Writing


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