Reading Poetry With the Poem Column – The New York Times

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Lesson of the Day
In this lesson, we invite students to read a poem selected by New York Times editors, then find their own poem and write about what it means to them.
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Featured Column: Poem
In this edition of our series on learning with New York Times columns, we’re inviting you to read and emulate The New York Times Magazine’s Poem column. Every week, the magazine publishes a new poem, which is chosen and introduced by a poet-editor, like Victoria Chang, Reginald Dwayne Betts or Naomi Shihab Nye.
In this lesson, you’ll read a poem from the column and see how the editors make their choices, as well as how they analyze and make connections to each poem. Then, you’ll choose your own poem to read and write a paragraph explaining what it means to you.
Curriculum Connections
This lesson is a natural fit for the English classroom, but it can work for other subjects, too. For instance, staff on the National desk at The New York Times often begin their morning meetings by reading a poem, since, as one photo editor on that desk remarks, “The magic of poetry is that it jolts your mind into thinking about a subject or theme in an unexpected way.” Choose a theme, concept, figure or event that connects to your curriculum and challenge students to find poems that relate to it somehow. In their explanations, students can say what the poems mean to them, and how the poems make them look at the topic in a new way.
You can take this activity further by inviting one student to bring in a poem each day and starting class by reading it.
Take a few moments to journal about the role that poetry plays in your life:
Do you read or write poetry? What does it bring to your life?
Do you have a favorite poem that you return to over and over again? What is it, and what do you appreciate about it?
Has poetry ever inspired you or changed your view of the world? Has it helped you through difficult times? If not, are there other forms of creative expression that have done that for you?
Choose one entry from the Poem column to read. Read the poem itself, but don’t read the Times editor’s note yet. Here are nine to get you started:
Small Kindnesses by Danusha Laméris
Wednesday Poem by Joel Dias-Porter
We Lived Happily During the War by Ilya Kaminsky
The Hedgehog by Lola Haskins
Fiction Versus Nonfiction by Lois Beardslee
Letter to a Bridge Made of Rope by Matthew Olzmann
the listening by Ed Roberson
She Ties My Bow Tie by Gabrielle Calvocoressi
[If you want to make it to the moon] by Dan Chiasson
If none of these interests you, you can find many more here.
Once you have chosen a poem, read it on your own several times, silently and aloud, and annotate it. You can use these prompts to guide your annotations — or ignore them and simply write about what comes up for you as you experience the piece.
What do you notice about the poem? For instance, which words, lines or images stand out? What interesting sounds do you notice when you read the poem aloud? What patterns do you see? What can you observe about the structure of the poem?
What do you wonder about this poem? For instance, which lines or images confuse you? Which words do you not know? What references does the author make that are unfamiliar to you? What questions do you have about the poem?
How does this poem connect to you personally? For instance, what thoughts, feelings or memories come up as you read? How does this poem relate to your life or the world around you? What does this poem — or individual lines or images from it — mean to you?
Now that you’ve thought about the poem for awhile, how would you answer the question, What’s going on in this poem?
Next, read the editor’s note, and then read the poem again. Respond to the following questions:
1. The editor offers a brief reading of the poem in a short paragraph. Spend a few minutes with that note. What images, themes, words or lines did the editor identify? What words or lines stood out for him or her? What personal connections did the editor make? What analyses, if any, did the editor offer? Why did he or she choose it?
2. How did your reading compare to the editor’s? Did the note make you see the poem differently? How might your different identities, backgrounds or experiences have shaped each of your readings of the poem?
3. What is the value of publishing poetry in a news source like The New York Times? What can we learn from the poem you read? Would you like the job of poetry editor for The New York Times Magazine? Why or why not?
Now, it’s your turn. Find a poem that resonates with you for any reason and read it. You can use the prompts above to guide your reading.
Then, like the Times poetry editors, write a paragraph explaining why you chose this poem and what it means to you. As the editors do, you might include some of the following:
Background on the poet or poem.
Your own interpretation of the poem and what it means to you.
A personal connection or a connection to the wider world.
Lines or words that spoke to you.
A lesson, theme or insight from the poem.
A simple drawing to complement the poem.
And, like the editors of the Poem column, feel free to write in your own voice so that readers can feel your personality coming off the page.
Want more Lessons of the Day? You can find them all here.


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