Student Question: What’s The Point Of Poetry If There’s No Rhyme Or Form?

After school book clubs are ideally supposed to be fun.  The students kick back and discuss books; the teacher gets to kick back after a day of teaching “Birches”, prepositional phrases, and discussing Pride and Prejudice and, most importantly, doesn’t have to rouse her tired self to teach some more.  Today after school I was much more tired than usual, having returned yesterday from a five day trip to SoCal with the health academy students.  I know this makes me a bad advisor, but I really wanted today to be a quiet club.

Since my group all reads the same book, but unfortunately not at the same pace, this makes discussion a bit difficult.  To bridge this gap and make connections to the novels, I began creating projects that connect to the themes.  Today’s dilemma: I hadn’t read our current novel, and therefore, had no project.  After listening to their discussion I determined that the theme was change and learned the protagonist has an out-of-body experience.  So in my infinite wisdom, I suggested, “How about you all write a poem about change or out of body experiences?”, thinking this will keep them occupied for at least a half an hour.

Immediately I was peppered with questions about the required length, the form, rhyming, use of imagery and figurative language, and what to do if you really suck at writing poetry.  Feeling like I was back in my teacher role (the school day’s over, kids!), I explained that they could make it as long as they wanted, use any form they wanted, imagery and figurative language are always good, please don’t rhyme if you hate it, and we’re just writing to express ourselves, so it doesn’t matter if you suck: Just. Write. A. Poem.

My contentious girl, who startled us last week by announcing that she doesn’t really like us, but doesn’t hate us either, asked, “What’s the point of poetry if there’s no rhyme or form?”  Of course she would ask this, I thought.  The centuries of poetry’s existence have all been rendered moot since poems don’t have to rhyme or have a mandated form.  So long, Shakespeare, take your sonnets and shove off.  I gave her a pat reply that the point was to convey an idea, emotion, or event as concisely as possible using meaningful words, imagery, figurative language.  Fortunately, she accepted that response with a grunt and began to write.

They wrote their poems and my one boy plucked his guitar in the background.  Finally they shared.  One wrote to her future college about about her ambivalence to the change it would make her face.  One wrote about how change and nature can drive people mad, but is ultimately a good thing.  One combined the ideas of change and the out of body experience that reflected her growth in life.  My contentious one wrote about how we can change who we are on the outside, but we always remain the same inside (in our roles as heartless jerks nonetheless).

Then my quiet one read her poem.  I leaned in with interest to hear her; she rarely speaks but smiles benignly during our discussions.  She softly read about happy memories and how they sustain her.  Halfway through her poem her eyes watered and reddened; a tear slid down her cheek as she let out a sob.  We froze in uncertainty, taken off guard by her display of emotion; a couple of girls reached over to give her hugs and I grabbed her a paper towel.  She pulled herself together as another girl finished her poem aloud for her.  Her happy memories transformed into sad memories with a recent death in her family.

I wanted to revise my answer to Contentious; I wanted to say the point of poetry is to have an outlet for us to express our thoughts, worries, and hopes.  It lets us share life’s disappointments and successes.  It lets us tell our stories in a personal form, that is our form alone and in a way that is ours alone.  It allows us to express our kernels of truth. It gave my quiet one a voice for her sorrow.  Of course, by this time the meeting was over and she bounded out  of her seat with, “It’s time.  I’m leaving.” She marched out without saying goodbye, and left me alone with my thoughts.



5 thoughts on “Student Question: What’s The Point Of Poetry If There’s No Rhyme Or Form?

  1. Wow. That was pretty heavy. This post itself had its own ring of poetry. Man, I felt for the quiet girl. Ultimately, even if you weren’t in the mood for teaching, you gave that girl a voice. Even if it was for one afternoon.

  2. At times it’s difficult to express to people why I choose to teach. The connections we make on a daily basis form a large part, and I thought your post was a perfect example of this (including the contentious girl). I empathized with you and chuckled out loud during the onslaught of questions about requirements, limitations, formulae, etc.
    Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks for the comment! The thing about teaching is that we never know what we’re going to get that day. I agree about the importance of connections in this job– we never know who we’re going to reach or how we’ll reach them. Most of the time, like yesterday, it’s completely unexpected.

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