by Catherine Graham

Before purchasing a CD or downloading tunes, we often taste the music beforehand; have a listen and then decide. Do we like it? Do we want these sounds to be part of our lives? We need to do the same for poetry.

Getting Started

Teachers: Provide students with a variety of contemporary Canadian poetry books, anthologies and websites (see the list below for a place to start) and invite students to find poems they like. They may think of themselves as poetry archeologists as they dig through the book pages and the web sites to find say 3-5 poems that speak to them. When they connect to a poem, ask them to make note (in their writer’s notebook) of what it was that drew them in. The title? The layout on the page? A word or phrase embedded in the poem? Perhaps a name or a place they recognized? These discoveries may be used for classroom discussion. What draws us into a poem?

Listening and Speaking

Students: Pick one of the poems on your list and read it aloud to a partner. Have your partner read aloud your poem to you. Then switch: listen to your partner’s poem then you read your partner’s poem. What did you think of it? Did you like it better than yours? Dislike it? Which activity did you prefer, reading or listening? Record your observations.

Freefall Writing

Teachers and Students: Freefall writing is a way of writing that helps access our inner language, our word rhythms, images, thoughts and perceptions, without worrying whether the writing is good enough. The goal of the timed exercise is to write and to keep on writing without judgment until the timer rings. Let the words flow. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar or whether what you write makes sense; keep the pen moving across the page.

Teachers: Provide each student with a slip of paper. Have them write down one line from a Canadian poem. Place all the slips in a hat or a bag and invite students to pick one (if they get their own slip, that’s fine). Write the line of poetry on top of a fresh page. This will be their place to start when they begin freefall writing.

Explain freefall writing (see above). Remember to stress the following: there is no right or wrong way to do this, only your way.

Set a timer for 5 minutes or so. Ask students to begin writing.

When the timer rings ask students to stop writing. Students quietly read over their work and circle any hotspots. Hotspots are words or phrases where the language shines or where there is something to explore further.

Discuss the experience with the students. Did they find the activity challenging? Did they lose track of time? Did the writing connect to their original line of poetry or did they explore new things?

Optional: Some students may want to share their writing with the class or with a partner.

More activities:

Students: Choose one of the contemporary Canadian poems on your list and copy it down in your notebook. Notice the form it takes – line length, stanza breaks, etc. Choose one line from the poem as a place to start and do a freefall write for five minutes. Do you see a connection between the original poem’s rhythms and its content with what you’ve just written? Notice any similarities and/or differences. Discuss.

Teachers: Read a contemporary Canadian poem aloud, one that you like. Invite students to listen. Read the poem again. Ask students to write down words or phrases they like as they listen. After the reading, students use the words and phrases they’ve written down to build their own poems. Challenge: to use every word on their word/phrase list in their poem.

Theses are just some activities to have fun with while exploring contemporary Canadian poetry. Once students make a connection to a Canadian poet, they may be encouraged to explore the poet’s books, websites and any on-line readings. Many poets visit schools (through the League of Canadian Poets!) and would be happy to share their poetry in person.

Canadian Anthology Suggestions and Websites:

15 Canadian Poets x 3. Edited by Gary Geddes

Open 30 Field Contemporary Canadian Poets. Edited by Sina Queyras

An Anthology of Canadian Poetry. Edited by Carmine Starnino

Open Country. Edited by Robert Lecker

Note to Teachers: Why not check out the poetry section in your local library? Bring a stack of books by contemporary Canadian poets to class and let the students explore!

Catherine Grahmn is the author of The Watch (Abbey Press, 1998), Pupa (Insomniac Press, 2003), and the forthcoming collection The Red Element (Insomniac Press, 2008). She lives and writes in Toronto, where she teaches creative writing (University of Toronto, Descant’s SWAT writer-in-residence program) and designs and delivers workshops on creativity for the business and academic communities. She is also the Vice President of the non-profit organization Project Bookmark Canada, which works to place fictional text in our everyday geography.

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