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Put That on the List: Independently Writing a Catalog Poem
|Grades||9 – 12|
|Lesson Plan Type||Standard Lesson|
|Estimated Time||Two 50-minute sessions|
In these contemporary times, our lives are often driven by lists—to-do lists, shopping lists, wish lists. In this activity, students use that structure to write powerful poetry, modeled after Raymond Carver’s poem "The Car." Working individually, students compose catalog poems based on concrete objects that hold personal meaning for them. They begin by brainstorming a list of their most prized or significant possession, then select two or three of the most meaningful. They then freewrite phrases that relate to each object and its importance in their lives. Next, students read and examine Carver’s poem and draft a poem in the same style, focusing on their own possessions. These poems, stripped down in the most minimalist fashion, allow students to concentrate on important aspects of poetry, including word choice, phrasing and rhythm as well as the all-important “heart” of the poem.
ReadWriteThink Printing Press: Use this online tool to create a newspaper, brochure, booklet, or flyer. Students choose a layout, add content, and then print out their work.
Through their reading of Carver's work, students ultimately understand the true spirit of poetry. Carver wrote, "Every poem is an act of love, and faith" (McCaffery and Gregory 72), and any lover of poetry would agree. But adolescents aren't typically lovers of poetry, and often they see the structure and substance of poetry as enigmatic and incomprehensible-and not very interesting. Which . . . is just how Raymond Carver felt.
Rilke is quoted as saying, "Poetry is experience." That's partly it. In any event, one always recognizes the real article from the trumped-up ersatz product which is so often top-heavy with technique and intellection and struggling to "say" something. I'm tired of reading poems that are just well-made poems (qtd. in Stull, "Matters of Life and Death" 179).
Carver's poetry offers readers something beyond the "well-made" poem. His poetry often tells a story, and it treads the same fine line between truth and imagination that one finds in his fiction. So too does it mimic Carver's fiction in its compression, its simplicity, and its precision. And always at its center is the truth of human feeling, often expressed in quite mundane terms. For these reasons, it's poetry that students can readily read and comprehend. When students understand, both on an intellectual and an emotional level, what a poet is saying, they can respond to his poetry in a meaningful way.
(Excerpted and Adapted from Rubenstein 64-65)
Rubenstein, Susanne. 2005. Raymond Carver in the Classroom "A Small, Good Thing." Urbana, IL: NCTE.