Poems to Start the Year

When we live in a world that asks us to read closely and analyze everything, it’s nice to just enjoy a poem for the reasons we love poetry.  For me, it’s that a-ha moment when I recognize my own thoughts expressed more perfectly on the page.

I spent hours as a college student collecting snippets of poetry, typing them up on colored index cards, and posting them on the walls in my house.  I still have a few of those index cards and they make me smile every time one falls out of an old book or I discover them while looking for something else in a shoe box of memories.  I’d love to help my students find the lines that speak to them—and to overcome their fears of poetry–so they can find deeper pleasure in the language, and, of course, feel comfortable when they encounter a poem on “The Test.”

Billy Collins inspired me to post a poem a day for just these purposes.  Each afternoon (almost) I wrote a new poem on the board and just left it there for students to read as they entered the next day.  Sometimes, if the poems were too long, I printed them and displayed them on the document camera, but I tried to keep them short.  Some days I read the poem to the class; some days we talked or wrote about it; some days I never mentioned it, but it was always there.

In preparation for the TeachersPayTeachers back-to-school books, I submitted my (free!) list of poetry questions that may be helpful to teachers as they look for discussion starters for the days they want to talk about the poem–or any other time they are teaching poetry.  I realized as I was preparing my submission that I should share some of my favorite poems, too.  Hence, this list—the first of many throughout the school year—of some of the poems my students and I have enjoyed.

BTS poetry

Whenever possible, I tried to select poems that were timely or related to the other texts we were reading or writing.  Here is a list of poems you might use to kick off your school year.

“Autobiography in Five Chapters” by Portia Nelson

I always like to start the year with a discussion of fresh starts and goal setting.  (I revisit this conversation at the new year/new semester, as well.)  This poem is one that many students can connect with, both personally and academically.

“A Prayer for the Twenty-First Century” by John Marsden

I like the concrete, contemporary imagery in this poem, and I especially like the final two lines as an opportunity to discuss respecting each other within the classroom (and the world).

“Leaving the Island” by Linda Pastan

This poem presents an opportunity to connect to the end of summer and discuss rhyme and repetition.

“Did I Miss Anything?” by Tom Wayman

I love the way he moves from sarcasm to genuine advice about the importance of being present—not just at school, but anywhere.  Early in the year, I present this poem on the document camera, and I just read it, but I make sure I read it well, in varying tones for the “nothing” and “everything” statements and then slowing down to emphasize the message at the end.  I do not discuss the poem (unless students have questions), just move on to the lesson as planned.  I print a copy of this poem and used it as the cover of the binder students should check when they were absent; this way they can revisit it on their own, too.

“Chapter One” by Mark Aiello

A great poem to open up the discussion of our reading histories or interests.

“The Student Theme” by Ronald Wallace

Post this one on the due date of the first paper!

“Gee, You’re So Beautiful It’s Starting to Rain” by Richard Brautigan

This is another one of those head-scratchers for students that I post on the day report cards are issued for the first 9-weeks.  I read it.  I enjoy the puzzled looks on their faces.  We move on.

And it wouldn’t be fall without a couple of football poems:

“Football” by Louis Jenkins

I share this poem on the day of our first home football game.  Usually the talk revolves around a) “What the hell is this?” (they can’t believe I’d post a poem with profanity in it on my board!)  and b) whether or not this is a poem.  I let them decide.  If I have time or desire, the other talking or writing points I like to focus on are making do and responsibilities and choices.

“Insanity” by Gaston Dubois

Another football poem.  I found this one in Linda Rief’s Quickwrites.  The link is to a photocopy from Rief’s book and includes some ideas to inspire writing.

Do you have any go-to poems for the first weeks of school?  Please share in the comments below!

2 thoughts on “Poems to Start the Year

  1. I loved reading this! Brings back memories seeing you with your notecards. You are my inspiration, Julie!

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