When I was in the elementary school, I was introduced to Dr. Seuss for the first time. I immediately fell in love with his work; at the time it was probably because his poetry was fun and rhythmically pleasing to read, but as I got older I realized the deeper meanings to his writings and loved him even more. (For example, in Sneetches, he implies that everyone tries hard to be what the vast majority is, hence everyone wanting stars on their bellies, but in the end it’s just a tiny star and really doesn’t mean anything more than its visual appearance.) My shelves were stacked with poetry books, and my library check-out list was an assortment of every different type of poetry writings I was aware of.
In seventh grade, we had a short poetry unit where we were to write a slam poem on an important, personal moment in our lives. I loved that unit, because there was no limit for what I could write. There were no expectations, and I felt free writing whatever I wanted to. My teacher constantly encouraged me, and I was getting praised for the work I was producing. At the end of the unit, I had written many more poems on my own, and it became one of my favorite hobbies.
In eighth grade, I had a strict humanities teacher who let us pick out any poetry we found interesting and deeply analyze its contents. I still loved poetry, but by then I was starting to get a little stressed out about the fact that our analyzing was being graded. When we began the actual writing process, I was already so drained from all the analyzing I’d done before, and I was unable to write from the top of my mind like I used to be able to. When we had an assignment to write a series of poetry for our portfolio, I remember how I felt so encaged and suffocated because my teacher hated my poetry and would always tell me “my words weren’t good enough” or even just “I don’t like it.” My grades were suffering because I was writing what I wanted to, what felt right to me, what sounded like my voice.
When I got help from an excelling student who had practically memorized the entire dictionary, to help me change all my ‘bad’ words into ‘good’ ones, my teacher told me I had “improved a lot” and that my work was “outstanding”. But I didn’t feel like that new poetry was mine. Everything on that portfolio was so foreign to me. It looked like a random assortment of every difficult word I could find on the dictionary or thesaurus, and although I admit the poetry was “good”, it wasn’t mine.
From then on, I started hating poetry because I felt as if my work wasn’t good enough. It didn’t help that in my freshman and sophomore years poetry was just another hard ‘analyzing’ and ‘interpreting’ unit. We were tested on how well we could analyze the writing based on what the teacher expected and what was written on the rubric, and the once exciting topic became a dull, arduous labor of a job. We never got to write our own poetry, it was just constant, full-on analyzing. Everything became so repetitive, for we were just analyzing, analyzing, analyzing…
Whenever I had the time, I got out my journal and wrote. I loved the sense of having my own time to write whatever I wanted to – it felt free and completely stress-less. Whenever I had a strong view or opposing thought on something but couldn’t talk to someone about it, I wrote those feelings out in my poetry. It didn’t necessarily have to make sense or be ‘good’; if I liked it, then I liked it and I always felt some sort of satisfaction and accomplishment afterwards.
I always think back to how my love for poetry started, and silently thank my elementary teachers for their enthusiasm in teaching us the art of poetry instead of forcing us to look into every detail of a writing. If they hadn’t shown me the works of Dr. Seuss, how would I ever have known the beauty of poetry? Would I have had the same love for writing as I do today?
This isn’t to say that I completely disagree with the teachings of my past teachers – graded analysis is important. To be a successful poet, you must know how to study another poet’s work. You must know all the devices crucial to writing a good poem on your own. But should it be the most important thing to teach? I don’t think so. I think that every student has the capacity to write an amazing work of poetry, and should be urged to keep writing freely.
We came from an era where poetry was practically the way of speech (e.g. the Shakespearean era) and was the deciding factor of whether a man was well educated or not (silly, I know) to a time where we are only studying the works of people who died decades ago instead of creating our own art.
In an area where we’re supposed to learn to be creative, we really are just being shunned of our creativity. Graded analysis should be part of the unit, not the entire whole of it. Teachers should allow us to write some individual poems, and maybe even let us share it with the entire class. It could be as easy as a 30 minute in-class assignment to write freely on a topic written on the board, or even just writing silly, fun, rhyming poems like the ones by Dr. Seuss.