National Poetry Month–Poetry Adventure #3

Community, National Poetry Month 2021 / Saturday, April 17th, 2021

So, this is the third installment of my fifth grade poetry class. Please understand (as with all six of these adventures) that this was written for 5th graders and I was the teacher. So please forgive me if I seem a little teacherly?

This week, we were talking a lot about reading one’s poetry and listening when you’re at a reading. I was sharing what I try to do when I read and listen to poetry.

Poetry Adventure 3—Giving voice to our words. We’re having a reading today!

 You Own Your Words.

Which of our voices do we use?

We have many voices. We speak one way when we speak to our friends, another way to our teachers. But we also have different voices when we speak to one person, to a few people, and to many.

We have different voices when we talk about the past. We have different voices when we talk about the future. We have different voices when we talk about our wishes. We have different voices when we talk about our reality. Hopes and aspirations are spoken up in different voices. Hope might sound like faith and prayer. Aspirations may sound like determination and work.

Our poems are often spoken in a single voice, because that is a simple way to think of poems. But sometimes, we can speak in different parts in different voices. This gives the poem richness and an awareness of others.

So, before you read your poems, think of which voices you will be using when you read and share your work. As important as the words are, and that’s important as the lines are, and as important as the images are–when you read out loud, it is your voice that gives the poem its life.

Who are we speaking to?

Many times, people think that reading poetry means simply reciting the words. However, every time you read your poem–every time you read your poem in public–your audience is never the same. Even when you read to yourself, you’re never the same.

Whenever I read poems, I spend some time thinking about the people who are there, now, with me. For me, it’s never just about me. It’s not even just about the poem. It’s about what I want to share and bring to the people who are listening. When I read, I feel so honored and privileged and joyful that during my time speaking, others will be listening and giving me their attention and support.

You see, it’s very rare that people listen to poems and hope they’re bad. You don’t go to a restaurant hoping that it’s bad. You’re always hoping that it’s good. The same thing goes for your poems. When people are listening to you, even if they might not be completely interested in your work at first, they’re hoping that it’s good. So when I read, I already feel as if the listeners are on my side. And because of that, I feel grateful. And because I feel grateful, I want to give them my best.

Listening to Someone Else’s Words

You have permission to not listen to every word. A lot of times, when I go to a poetry reading, I get tired. I mean, my ears get tired. Sometimes my eyes get tired. My attention wanders. And the more I try to pay attention, the worse it gets. Even now, that happens. That’s kind of embarrassing, when you’re a poetry teacher. But I wanted to let you know this, because poetry can be tough to listen to.

You’re worried that you’re going to miss something, or you’re going to misinterpret something. You might not like the subject material. There are times you might not even like the poet.

And here you are listening, no matter what. What do you do?

You relax. You accept that you won’t understand everything. Just like you never understand anybody the first time you meet them. Instead, you enjoy the things that you enjoy. You appreciate the things you appreciate. You let the things that reminds you of your life remind you of your life.

You see the colors you can see. You taste the flavors that you can taste. You smell whatever you can smell. An if there’s a song that you hear, even more wonderful!

Sometimes, a poem will remind you too much of who you are. That happens to me sometimes when I listen to poems that are written in moments of sadness or anger or despair. And times like that, sometimes I’ll stop listening. That’s OK, too. Or, I’ll try to listen to other things—and let my mind process in the background.

I think at the end of a reading, all I want the readers to tell me is that they appreciated my work. It doesn’t matter if they “got” my poem. All that matters is that they got something from the work. Maybe a smile, maybe even a good honest cry. But if they felt more in touch with who they are through my work, I’m deeply rewarded.

So when you listen to poems, don’t worry about getting the right answer. Just let the poet know that you found some things in their work meaningful—to yourself—and that listening to their work made you feel listened too, as well.