Pretty much every trip my family takes to the city finds us in a bookstore. Not a surprise, I know.
Recently, as I walked past the teen section, dragging my kids out of the children’s section, a book, of course, caught my eye.
I picked up Get Lit Rising, and flipped through it. And headed straight to the cash register.
Here’s why. In that first scan, I saw the structure of the book. A young writer shares their personal story. There’s a classic poem that they studied. There’s a poem that they wrote in response to that classic. Then, there are some prompts to encourage the reader to write, as well as a list of classic poems around the same themes as the classic featured.
I’ll admit, my overworked TeacherBrain shouted at me, “Jay! This book is a series of readymade lesson plans you don’t need to figure out! You must have it so we can take it easy for once!” I teach thematically, so having lists of poems related to various themes made it a worthwhile purchase as well.
Once I got home, and started reading, I learned a bit more about Get Lit. This is an amazing non-profit that uses poetry “to increase literacy, empower youth, and inspire communities.” Writers study classic poems, and write poems in response. There is a strong community in these classes, encouraging craft and performance, promoting literacy, and all that comes with it. It’s pretty damn inspiring.
And the book is beautiful. If you work with young people, you know that there is so much story attached to each of them. Reading each story before the poetry brought so much to both the classic and their response. This isn’t just a book that you can use as a teaching text, but one that reminds you of the importance of this human endeavour we are part of. It tugs at the heartstrings big time.
I borrowed the lesson structure right away, bringing it into my Creative Writing course. The first time, I did things the easy way, pulling a classic and prompts from the book. (Bukowski’s “A Smile To Remember”)
I know that I did a truncated version of what can be done. About half of our hour together, we spent in discussing Bukowski poem. I encouraged them to choose any approach that got them writing – a straight response, pulling “seed lines” from the poem to grow their poems, and obviously, using the prompts to inspire their pieces. A great chat, and then the quiet as they started writing.
After a while, Jess came up to me. “Nickerson, I think I killed it.” She handed me her poem, and she did. I don’t think she identified as a poet before that day, but she does now. The best part, watching as she cornered every person she could. She started by sharing the Bukowski poem. Then, “This is what I wrote in response.” Watching her watch them, waiting for her words to land… worth every penny spent on that book and more.
We’re a few weeks into the course. On Tuesdays, we do poetry. My TeacherBrain rages, because I’ve not gone back and pulled a poem straight from Get Lit Rising since that first Tuesday. I read a lot of poetry, and some really cool pieces have caught my attention, and I’ve wanted to share them with students. I’m using the Get Lit model though – we read and discuss a classic, and then we write response pieces. Watching their confidence and pride in their poetry grow has been such a great experience, that I’m sad the course will end.
Much as many students are nervous about studying, and writing, poetry, many teachers are nervous about teaching it. This book, and a curriculum like Get Lit’s is an incredible support system. I’ve dedicated a lot of time and effort to growing as a poetry teacher the last couple years of my career, and what Get Lit Rising features covers many of the things I feel are vital in studying poetry. Students study existing works, figuring out what makes them work, and they use these poems as launching pads for their own poetry. All in a community that values poetry because of the magic it contains and the promise it holds.
Has anyone else read this book? Does anyone teach using the Get Lit curriculum? What poem would you bring to your writers using this approach?
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