On Poetry and Digestion

As systems go, the digestive system really is one of my favourites, as it has to do with food and strange sounds.  This doesn’t necessarily make it everyone’s favourite to study, pertaining as it does to, well, digestion.  Anyway, it’s in the curriculum.  So, I thought we should review our learning by making a Class-Size Working Model of The Digestion System (which is a Caldwell Grade Five tradition).   Once it was working smoothly, we invited students from other classes and digested them.  Nobody said digestion was pretty, or quiet.

Some of the students think I am making a special effort to bring disgusting topics to class but I’m really not–it just seems to happen naturally.  Call it a gift.  For instance, we are studying poetry–what is more likely to be beautiful than poetry?  So, because yesterday was Robert Burns Day, in which the national poet of Scotland is celebrated by Scots and their descendants everywhere, I thought I would share the poem that will be recited at these celebrations, accompanied by the uniquely Scottish national dish it celebrates: haggis My reason was to demonstrate that in many places poetry and poets are considered vital parts of the culture.  But once I told students what a haggis is (ask them if you dinna know), they seemed to miss my point.  Anyway, here it is: 

Don’t feel bad if you don’t understand this–it’s mostly in Scottish.


What is poetry?

Happy National Literacy Week!

For the past couple of weeks we’ve been digging into poetryI proudly admit to loving poetry, reading poetry in my spare time–I even have neighbours who are poets (but are otherwise very responsible).   But I get that not all poetry grabs all people.

We launched in with “The Jabberwocky”, from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass.  I chose this because, well, I like it, but also because it challenges the students to think:  What is this about??  And:  Is he allowed to just make up words?!  And:  Is all poetry made better by reciting it with a dramatic English accent?  (I think a lot of it is; that’s why Shakespeare talked like that).

The question “What is going on here?” is really about poetry’s demand that we think, that we dig deeper, that we have to infer (we’ve been inferring).  There is a great deal not told in a poem, left to our imaginations.  Robert Frost shares two wintery moments with us in these poems from last week, and in each it is the questions we are left with that make the poems so savoury.

Click on these poems to see them better.


This second poem (“It’s so short!” they exclaimed) is like a little puzzle.  We spent quite a lot of time on <rued>: (rue + ed)!   Awesomely, later that same day, Ryan came to me with his copy of Hatchet by Gary Paulsen and said, “Hey Mr. Caldwell, you weren’t kidding about how new words turn up.”  And there was the phrase, “Which, he found ruefully, was easier said than done.”   I love that!  (I’ll let you read this awesome book to find out what the character was trying to do.  He spends a lot of time “ruing” in that book).

Today, I fired out a question:  “What is poetry?”   This is a wide-open question, but their ideas reflected their experience.  Then I gave them the three poems below to consider and discuss:  Are these poems?  What are they about?  How do they fit  with our understanding of poetry and writing?  Tomorrow we’ll spend some time rolling their ideas about.   I encourage you to read these with your kids.  See what you think:  poetry or not?   As always, your comments are welcome (and don’t worry about hurting my feelings–I didn’t write them!).

Before you read on:  This week, I’ll be encouraging students to dig through the many volumes of poetry I’ve brought in and (hopefully) find one or two they like to share.  Do you (yes, you) have a favourite poem you’d like to share, or an experience with poetry (positive or negative) that you’d like to share?  This is the place–or send it in! 


Click to read more clearly.