Teaching Poetry

There is sometimes a misconception that teenagers will struggle to read and understand poetry that may use abstract imagery, complex language and that may reference events, people and ideas that are not familiar to the majority of young readers. As an English teacher, I have witnessed teenagers grappling with complex poetry and ideas, and feeling empowered when they are able to come up with a reading that is valid and that may be different from the teacher’s.

In the foreword to Michaels’ books Maxine Greene states, “Judith Michaels… chooses herself as a friend of her students’ minds” (Greene 1999, pX). This idea of developing a relationship with students’ minds, by encouraging them to embrace challenging texts and not be afraid of ‘intense’ reading and writing experiences, reflects my teaching pedagogy.

Earlier this year I studied the poem ‘Epilogue‘ by Ania Walwicz. This poem was complex as it critiqued the different ways that femininity has been constructed by people such as Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Jacques Lacan. Not all of my students were familiar with these individuals or their theories, so we had to do some research. The structure of this poem was also confronting to my students at first, as was the length of the text. However, the students enjoyed the pace of the poem. As with most of Walwicz’s poetry, it is written for performance.

We read this poem as part of a ‘Representation of Resistant Voices’ module for Advanced Preliminary English.

The students felt empowered after reading this text, which was very different from the kinds of poetry that they are usually exposed to. They were able to read this text and discuss the features and themes of the text in a sophisticated way. They were proud of themselves for managing to take on the challenge of this poem.

Many of my students, particularly the girls, were also felt empowered by the final message of the poem:

 … I take what I want.
What I want. I select. I differentiate. I choose and pick me. I accept my
story. I can live. I am in charge. I am the writer, actor and director now.
I am the supervisor. I am the doctor.

They enjoyed the idea that a woman can determine what femininity means for her.

Disclaimer: I explored this text with a gifted class of year 11 students. It does explore ideas of gender and sex that are most suitable for a senior class.

Here is a word document that provides a rubric and some ideas that I and my colleagues generated in response to this module, as well as a PowerPoint that I created to introduce some of the individuals and ideas that Walwicz references in her poem.

R Hall Essay Prep 2017 



Poetry Object

My plan to post more often, now that I have set up this new blog, has not been very successful. So here is a short post to get that ball rolling again.

I am very proud of all of the students who entered the Red Room Company’s Poetry Object competition. I am, of course, particularly proud of the students from the high school that I work at. One of my students has been short listed, which is very exciting.

This poem isn’t the one that was short listed, but I think this writer will be someone to look out for in the years to come!

Dear first bra, 
You were white with pink lace 
Hanging on a clothes rack 
Embarrassment without a face 
My mum dragging me past the clothes stack

Dear first bra, 
You painted an incomplete painting of my complete life 
You made me the blistering summer following a silent spring 
The stormy winter following the spiralling autumn 
The raging, roaring bushfire following a soft wind

continue reading at: https://redroomcompany.org/poetry-object/poems/11782/

little mountain readings

little mountain readings is an annual poetry reading that takes place at Sturt Cottage in Mittagong. It’s now in its forth year. I am excited to have Michele Seminara (poet and editor) reading this year, as well as Phillip Hall (my dad) returning and hopefully readings from high school students.

I began this event in 2013, when I was completing my Diploma in Education. The featured poets in 2013 were my dear friends and local writers Ken Challenor, Monica Donoso, Kerry Miller and Mark Tredinnick. We had such a fabulous turn out this first year. It was so great to see so much support of poetry in the Southern Highlands!

2014, my first year of teaching, was another bumper little mountain readings. Again, we had a fabulous turn out. Four accomplished poets read for us, Ron Pretty (Illawarra poet), Jessica Raschke (Southern Highlands poet), Mark Tredinnick (Southern Highlands poet) and Peter Bakowski (Melbourne poet). Ron Pretty also ran an inspiring writing workshop before the readings and we heard some of the poems written in the workshop during the little mountain readings open mic.

In 2015 we were stunned by the poetry of two more Southern Highlands residents and outstanding poets, Lorne Johnson and Peter Lach Newinsky. These two poets are wonderful performers and brought their words to life for us through their readings.

After the amazing opportunity to run a series of poetry writing workshops at Moss Vale High School, I introduced a new element to the little mountain readings in 2016. Kerri-Jane Burke established a fabulous writer’s residency at Moss Vale High School and I was honoured to be the first poet in residence. The residency involved release from my school for three days over a six week period. On the days that I attended Moss Vale High School, I ran workshops with eager students and wrote with some passionate teachers at the end of the day. The students wrote poems that celebrated their connections with places and these were published in a zine at the end of the workshops. Teachers engaged in a range of writing workshops and shared strategies for engaging students in creative writing. I was thrilled to find time to do some of my own writing during this residency. I had not found time to write anything new in my first few years of teaching and this was the push that got that ball of creative inspiration rolling for me once again.

In the 2016 little mountain readings, I focused on the relationship between education and creative outlets. Poet and former teacher Phillip Hall and local school students performed their poetry. This was such an empowering opportunity for the students, to have an engaged audience who were interested in their words. The students performed poems that they had written as part of the workshop series at Moss Vale High School, and some works that they had composed independently. One of the the students even won the little mountain readings’ ‘lead logie’, which is a large pencil that has been awarded every year to the winner of the open mic. The winner gets to keep the pencil for a year and must return the next year to either win the pencil again or pass it on to the next winner.

This year’s little mountain readings will hopefully be another empowering experience for everyone present.

The constants throughout the four years of little mountain readings have been the support – both financially and with the logistics of publicising, setting up and hosting – of Sturt and the South Coast Writers Centre. I am so grateful to these two organisations, and in particular to Mark Viner at Sturt and Friederike Krishnabhakdi-Vasilakis at the South Coast Writers Centre, for their encouragement and help. I am also very grateful to Monica Donoso who designed the little mountain readings’ gorgeous logo and has created the flyers and posters to promote the event every year.