April is National Poetry Month. To celebrate, Story Lab students have dived into poetry from places and eras all over!

At Blatchley, the entire 7th grade learned how to memorize and perform poetry. First, students chose a poem to write down and carry with them to learn and share with others, extending Poem in Your Pocket Day (April 21) to three weeks!

In class, we worked on memorization techniques, focusing on constructing “memory palaces,” an ancient Greek and Roman method of memorizing text by using the spatial-visual brain. We made maps of familiar places, like our houses or neighborhoods, and “placed” lines of poetry in specific locations. Then we “walked” in our minds through those places and tried to memorize the lines visually.

Then, we practiced performance techniques. To practice feeling stage presence, each student walked onstage with gravitas, announced the title and author of their poems, and stared into their classmates’ eyes to  command their attention. We defined overall moods of the poems and identified “peaks” and “valleys” of intensity, and came up with ideas to express those things through the voice and through body language. Each class we watched a video performance – by professional poets and Poetry Out Loud students – and analyzed what made their performances so special.

Almost every student memorized a poem for the final performance, and many took dramatic staging to the next level. One student jumped onto the table to recite Walt Whitman’s famous Civil War poem, “O Captain! My Captain!”. Others brought props – ranging from Sorting Hats to a basketball to a penny to a sleigh bells.

Here are some of the poems memorized and performed:

  • Emily Dickinson’s “Because I Could Not Stop For Death”
  • Emily Dickinson’s “If I Can Stop One Heart from Breaking”
  • Emily Dickinson’s “I’m Nobody! Who are You?”
  • William Shakespeare’s “To Be or Not To Be” soliloquy from Hamlet
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Children’s Hour”
  • W.H. Auden’s “Funeral Blues”
  • J.K. Rowling’s “Sorting Hat” songs, “Sphinx” riddle, and Gringotts poem from Harry Potter
  • Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”
  • Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool”
  • Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”
  • Siegfried Sassoon’s “Alone”
  • William Earnest Henley’s “Invictus”
  • Edgar Allen Poe’s “Lenore”
  • Edgar Allen Poe’s “El Dorado”
  • Erin Hanson’s “Never Trust a Mirror”
  • Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”
  • Shel Silverstein’s “Sick” (and other poems from Falling Up)
  • Jack Prelutsky’s “Vampire” (and other poems from Nightmares: Poems to Trouble Your Sleep)
  • A lot of original poetry (!) by 7th graders

In 4th grade enrichment at Keet Gooshi Heen, we have learned much about techniques of writing traditional Japanese haiku. We first learned about kireji, or “cutting word” – a word or phrase that “cuts” the poem in half, that functions as a turn towards a new idea or insight. When translated from Japanese to English, kireji appears less like words or phrases than punctuation, such as ellipses, dashes, semicolons, or colons. Kireji often makes haiku surprising, humorous, or unexpected poignant. For example, by Kobayashi Issa:

This moth saw brightness
In a woman’s chamber –
Burnt to a crisp.

Then we learned about kigo, or “seasonal word” – a word or phrase that tells the reader what time of year it is. In Japanese, “cicada” is a seasonal word for summer, “cherry blossom” for spring, “nashi pear” for fall, and “sea-devil stew” for winter. We brainstormed Southeast Alaskan kigo for springtime – “hummingbirds,” “herring,” “salmonberry buds.” “noseeums,” “deer heart,” “skunk cabbage,” “Orion in the West,” “longer days,” “Easter bread” – and put them in our poems.

We did this kigo haiku workshop with the elementary after school session. And with the 7th grade, too, where we drew inspiration from the crabapple trees in the Blatchley Community Garden!

Story Lab hosts free, after-school creative writing and storytelling classes to students ages 7-19. Registration is rolling, and all students are welcome! Elementary school sessions meet every other Tuesday 3:00-4:30, middle school every Wednesday 3:30-5:00, and high school every Friday 4:40-6:00. For questions, contact the number above or sarah@iialaska.org.