Mentor Text Wednesday: How A Poem Moves

Mentor Text: How a Poem Snapshots a Moment of Drama by Adam Sol


  • Analysis


I try to build little brain breaks for myself into the school day. That’s been vital these last couple especially challenging years.

Access to a digital library has been incredibly helpful in this regard, as I don’t have to remember to pack a book in the morning as I’m trying to get everywhere in our house out of the house and where they need to be for the day. I always have a device on me, and whichever one is closest will allow me to access something to read.

Knowing I had a particularly busy couple of weeks ahead of me recently, I decided to make sure there was some poetry on my digital shelf. Poetry is perfect for those days when you need a moment that isn’t teaching, planning, parenting or any of the other responsibility roles you’ve got. (Of course, it usually winds up coming back to teaching, because you’re invariably flagging poems for classroom use…)

Without a poet in mind, I simply typed the word poetry into the search bar, and looked for something in the results. What I found gave me what I wanted and more.

Culled from the blog by the same name, Adam Sol’s How A Poem Moves is a wonderful collection of essays analyzing poems, and the moves they make. So, not only did I discover new poems, but I found mentor texts for analyzing poetry as well

Via CBC Books

How we might use this text:

Analysis – I’m chuckling as I write this, because in the past week, we had a really frank discussion abut analyzing poetry in my Grade 11 class. We were looking at Nikita Gill’s lovely ‘It’s Not About Christmas,’ and one student insisted that while Gill’s poem is lovely, it very openly says what it’s about in the last stanza, taking the work out of it. As we looked at Rudy ‘Francisco’s ‘Mercy” today, he commented that it was more in line with what we should be doing, trying to discern the meaning in a poem, doing “the work.”

Sol’s essays are all about this work, mentoring the process and how we share the process as writers.

Each essay is titled with the “move” the poet uses, that Sol has determined as a focus. I especially like this for our students, because in an effort to make the work of poetry analysis easy, we too often wind up with checklists that our students focus on over the beauty and impact of the poem. Because they’re looking for the things on the checklist, they often don’t focus on the most impactful elements of a poem. I love this notion of identifying, and then focusing on a significant, impactful element within the poem we’re analyzing.

It is worth noting that in many of the pieces, Sol does look at other elements of the poem, but he’s either discussing their impact related to the identified focus of the analysis, or they’re noted because although they aren’t the “dominant” element, they are worth noting.

Perhaps this is because of the more informal tone that Sol uses. Though the essays in this collection could be treated as more academic analyses of poetry, they are also organic feeling, perhaps a bit more informal than what we think of when we think of analytical essay.

Which is not to suggest that the analysis is compromised. In fact, Sol’s work, in my opinion, might encourage our writers to go a bit deeper in their analysis. By moving away from that checklist approach, to discussing how a key element impacts the reading of the poem, he shows a path to writing more comprehensively about that element, or device, or language, or form.

When I’m reading, I’m always looking for things that I can use in my classroom. A book like this one is wonderful because it serves so many purposes. It’s full of poems and poets that were new to me. Sol’s essays are wonderful to read as a teacher of poetry, because they also give you a whole bunch of material you could build a lesson around, with learning for you, as a teacher. And obviously, since you’re reading about them in the Mentor Text Wednesday space, they’re useful as mentor texts for a challenging writing task for many of our learners.

What is one of your richest texts you’ve found – one of those things like this book that does more than you initially sought it out for? How do you structure analysis tasks for your writers? What analysis mentor texts do you lean on?

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy!

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