“The nature of poetry is to be self-revelatory,” suggests Class II English teacher Diane Buhl.
In the girls’ own writing, she loves how they “are willing to put themselves out there. They’re willing to take that risk. That’s brave.”
For the first of their assignments in a poetry unit this spring, the girls wrote “I am” poems, creatively weaving in aspects of their own identity.
By design, the assignment lets girls “become more comfortable with expressing themselves and build trust within the classroom so that they’re comfortable sharing their writing with one another.”
During the five-week unit, the girls write seven poems and then choose three to revise. Throughout the unit, the girls work on using “the poet’s tools,” including imagery, figurative language, and ways to use line breaks and create rhythm without rhyme. They work continually at “compressing their language,” Ms. Buhl notes. “They learn about building to an ending that leaves the reader gasping,” she adds with a laugh.
What makes poetry poetry? That’s one of the questions with which they wrestle. To help answer that question, the girls study others’ poems, often working together to unpack the meaning of works by leading poets such as Billy Collins or Nikki Giovanni as well as examples of student writing. They also read and analyze a novel in verse.
“I love teaching poetry,” Ms. Buhl adds. She knows every student isn’t going to love it. Some come in as “poetry phobes,” she admits. At the unit’s start, classmates share what they like about it and air their annoyances. In terms of how much they are willing to share, they all have varying degrees of vulnerability, which she respects.
“I like to say ‘we’re putting our toe into the poetry pond,’” Ms. Buhl jokes. The girls come to the material at different points, and she sees her job as moving them all further along. The revisions help her—and the girls themselves—to reflect on what they have learned.
The “I am” poems are featured prominently in an exhibit in the Lower School hallway this spring, letting the school see and enjoy their creativity. Interestingly, the poems echo some of the writings in an earlier exhibit from an Class II advisory exercise, in which girls used poetry to express “The Most Important Thing About Me.”
In the end, “I really want them to be poets,” Ms. Buhl says, adding that she hopes as well that they take pride in their work.
Here are a few samples of the poets' opening lines, "I am...":
"...a dreamer and an achiever."
"...shy but strong inside."
"...loving and determined."
"...hopeful and curious."
"...energetic and kind."
"...sport and funny."
"...creative but practical."
"...a listener and a watcher."
"...the wind, a traveler, a nomad."
"...not perfect, because I don't need to be."
"...a future star, but I do not yet know how to shine."
"...strong, inspirational and powerful."