Someone is Always Listening

What is poem?

Don’t give me some long, convoluted definition. Just answer the question. Could you? Don’t worry, I can’t either. I can’t say definitively what poetry is and I can’t say with certainty what poetry isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you and I don’t understand the general concept of poetry. I know we do. All I am saying is that neither you nor I, not even the Poet Laureate, has the ability to say that something is or isn’t a poem unless we have written it ourselves. (If you happen to meet him, please don’t tell him I said he couldn’t!)

One of the first things that I try to drive home with my students is that if they say that something they have written is a poem, then it’s a poem, and no one has the right to tell them otherwise! Around Christmas time, I was invited by the parent council to perform a poetry/storytelling evening at my school. About 200 students and parents (Grades 5-8) came back to school on a Thursday night to take in the show, have some hot cocoa, and hopefully learn something. Over the course of an hour I discussed many of my thoughts on poetry and the arts that I will be discussing in these articles, had student volunteers participate with me on stage in a number of activities including the creation and presentation of poems, and storytold. One of these musings about poetry was the statement that only the poet can decide if something is a poem or not, and not to let anyone convince them that something they have written is not a poem if they believe it is.

Jump to the next morning when I placed a before-school work assignment on the board. “Write a poem about winter in your Writing Journal.” Thirty seconds later, one of the students, who tends to have some difficulty focusing, approached me, holding his Writing Journal. I assumed that he had a question. When he reached me he said surprisingly, “I’m finished!” Then he asked, “Would you like to hear my poem?”

“Of course!” I responded.

He cleared his throat and with a put-on passion said, “SNOW!”

Looking me dead in the eye, he smiled a rye smile and said, “I was really listening last night and I say it’s a poem!”



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