Poetry: Pop Culture & Media Literacy

Often, I find that I’m forced to defend the teaching of poetry—to my students.  It is as if they see poetry as frivolity, or worse, self-indulgence.  In the world of Tumblr, Instagram, and Flipboard, where does poetry fit?  Today begins our foray into resources that help teach students how poetry exists in spaces other than just textbooks and dusty bookstores.

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One of the best ways to discuss poetry, popular culture and media literacy finds its shape in The Anthology of Really Important Modern Poetry: Timeless Poems by Snooki, John Boehner, Kanye West, and Other Well-Versed Celebrities. In this anthology, authors and siblings Kathryn and Ross Petras use the language of politicians and celebrities to create found poetry.  The results are fabulous and humorous.  While not all poems are appropriate for use in the classroom, there are enough to make the publication a useful resource.   To begin, examine their Tumblr page.  Each day, for National Poetry Month, they are posting one poem from the actual anthology.   Then, peruse the two articles below that examine the poetry and purpose.

Al Kamen from The Washington Post reviews the book and even offers some of the “poetry” from Biden, Obama, Harry Reid and Ann Coulter.  Even for students who aren’t “versed” in the art of politics, Kamen highlights “poetry” that everyone can understand.  Reid’s are especially good.

If popular culture has a stronger appeal, consider using Newsday’s review of the book, which highlights Kanye West and Flava Flav.  Be warned though, the picture of Snooki at top isn’t something you want to project on your SmartBoard or via your LCD.

Better yet buy it for yourself.  It’ll be a useful resource for at least the next couple of years, which is more than I can say of many of books I end up owning for classroom use.

Lesson Ideas

1. Have students create “essential questions” about this type of poetry and its place within popular and political culture.  Areas of focus might include:

  • The role of celebrities of politicians and celebrities as “poets”
  • The nature of poetry as a jab at all things political
  • How celebrities see themselves based on their language
  • The role of authorial intent if language is “repurposed” into poetry

Don’t give students the questions.  Make them “dig” for them on their own.

2. Use the anthology as a way to have students discuss and write.  Choose several poems to share with students organized around a common theme or motif.  Afterwards ask that students to identify the primary theme and construct their own writing prompt (think SAT) about what can be argued about our culture.

3. Use the poems as a way to begin a found poetry assignment.  Have the poems serve as professional models.  An example of how good found poetry can be when done thoughtfully.  Then ask students to cull through any speeches or longer quotes from celebrities from 2012.  You may give them parameters or actually give them the “texts.” People magazine is a great resource for this type of “pop” culture assignment.  Ask that students conform to a format for their poetry.  Give them parameters.  You are asking that they practice form/style, something that is very difficult when they are also asked to come up with the language themselves. In need of a good found poetry assignment?  Try Stephen Dunning and William Stafford’s Getting the Knack: 20 Poetry Writing Exercises.  NCTE has been kind enough to put up their instructions for found poetry via Read Write Think.

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