Moving through Works by Artists

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Moving through Works by Artists

A high school student walks into class on a Monday morning and his or her instructor informs the class that for the next couple of weeks, they will be studying poetry with works by Emily Dickinson, Percy Bysshe Shelly, William Shakespeare, and the like. Automatically, the students in the English classroom are intimidated; the teacher walks through the rows of chairs, dispensing dense packets of poetic literature containing intimidating stanzas and heroic couplets. One student peers at the first page and raises her hand in puzzling frustration, “This isn’t even in English.”

“Oh, I peg your pardon, but it is, Miss Smith. What you are looking at is Middle English, and this writing preceded those who are the great poets of today.” The students look at each other with boredom and disgust, and blankets of indifference soon roll over their countenances. Though there was the opportunity to share a great style of English literature with the students, the teacher has lost them before the potentially intriguing lesson even started.

The above illustration is arguably an experience that many high school students have when encountering poetry; my experience was much similar to this one and because of it, I learned to fear and loathe poetry altogether. Many English teachers approach poetry in an old-fashioned manner that sends their students running into the halls screaming with their hands covering their ears. The manner in which poetry is taught and the content that is covered has the potential to enlighten learners or turn them off from the type of literary work completely.

Who is to say that Dickinson and Shakespeare and the rest of those who are considered to be “the greats” by most faculties are the only ones who have written good poetry? Does a poet have to be buried six feet under in order for their works to be noteworthy? This curriculum stands to teach students about poetry, poets and their respective works, by authors whose writings are relevant to the experiences shared by students of this age group. Sentiments of uncertainty, love, and new beginnings are expressed by numerous artists of the contemporary and modern American genres that are just as powerful as works by those who fall into the classical timeline; this is by no means to say that artists like Longfellow do not have the ability to reach the young generations of today.

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