Tapestry of Faith: Exploring Our Values Through Poetry: A Program for High School Youth

Activity 1: What Is A Poem?

Activity time: 10 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Photocopy Handout 1, "Introduction to Poetry," one copy for each participant.
  • Write Is It a Poem? at the top of a sheet of newsprint. Prepare two columns, one with a + (plus) sign at the head and one with a - (minus) sign at the head, for responses.

Description of Activity

Participants share their experiences with poetry and imagine how this program will be different.

Ask the youth to share their ideas and feelings about poetry. This opening discussion is the threshold of both today's workshop and the entire program; make it welcoming. Invite participants to share their prior experience, prior knowledge, and preconceptions about poetry. Honor all responses and listen for a sense of where this group is beginning its journey with poetry. This short exercise will engage participants in the work and learning to come and prepare you to lead this particular group.

If needed, use these questions to prompt discussion:

  • What poems are familiar to you? Do you have any favorites? If so, what are they?
  • Can you recite a poem? If so, why do you remember the words of this particular one?
  • Have you tried to write a poem? How did that go?
  • What is your definition of a poem?

If you like, share these definitions of a poem, from the American Heritage Dictionary (from Dictionary.com. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004) : 1. A verbal composition designed to convey experiences, ideas, or emotions in a vivid and imaginative way, characterized by the use of language chosen for its sound and suggestive power and by the use of literary techniques such as meter, metaphor, and rhyme. 2. A composition in verse rather than in prose.

Do not expect to arrive at a definitive definition, and certainly do not expect a consensus! Direct participants to keep the above questions and issues in mind today as they move deeper into poetry.

Have two volunteers read aloud Handout 1, "Introduction to Poetry." Allow about thirty seconds between the readings. Ask participants, "Does your prior experience with poetry relate to what Billy Collins expresses about discussing poetry?" Allow time for youth to answer, and then ask, "Why do you think he titled the poem "Introduction to Poetry"?

After discussing these questions, inform participants that during the workshops you will try not to "beat poems with a hose." However, you will facilitate discussions about what each poem means, and it might be useful to have a common vocabulary to use in these discussions. You will introduce some vocabulary words in the next activity.

Including All Participants

Photocopies of poems should always be in an easy-to-read font and font size. Be prepared to help struggling readers with difficult words.