Painless Poetry
Art Belliveau

    I love poetry.  I love to read it, and I love to write it.  But until I 
was asked to give a presentation about poetry at a Young Author's Conference, 
I had never stopped to think about how I wrote it, or what I loved best about 
my favorite poetry.  
    On reflection it came to me that poetry involved two main areas of human 
consciousness, the emotions and the senses.  The intellect is pretty well 
shut out, or at least relegated to an inferior position on my mental priority 
list.  The senses are needed to ground the poem in a reality we all can 
share, and the emotions are needed to help interpret the information our 
senses receive and record.  The intellect is pretty much there for vocabulary 
and form, but honest emotion is much more important than scholarly vocabulary 
or exquisite form.  
    That lead me to develop this lesson on a painless entry into poetry 
writing.  I teach this lesson to my seventh grade students, but have also 
used it effectively with high school students^ึ^ึand even adults!
    As a result of this lesson, I hope the students will become more careful 
observers; that they will use what they observe in their writing; and that 
they will become more personally involved with writing through this exercise. 
 Lofty goals, but ultimately reachable I believe.  It also covers the 
following skills required by the state's curriculum guide:

Compose, following the examples of meaningful literary models.
Compose and present in many ways, using various techniques for different 
Recognize the power of language as it evokes emotion; expands thinking; and 
influences problem solving, decision making, and action.
Refine listening, speaking, reading, and viewing habits through 
involvement/interaction with varied language media.
Integrate oral reading with written composition, listening, and/or viewing.
Recognize various forms of literature; select and indicate a preference for 
various forms of written, spoken, and visual communication.
Exhibit proficiency in the use of the writing process.

    Begin the lesson by listing the five different senses on the board or 
overhead.  Give an example or two of a "sense word" for each one.  For 
example: BANG! and whisper for sound, bacon frying and roses for smell, 
smooth and cold for touch, bitter and sugary for taste, and purple and dark 
for sight.  Ask the students to list at least three more for each sense in 
their journals, or on paper.  Then make a list for each sense out of words 
students volunteer.  
    After reading poemcrazy by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge I am adding a new 
step to this.  Pass out five blank "word tickets" to each student.  As the 
student gives the word for the board they are to write it down on the word 
ticket as well.  Later collect these and keep them for use in the class "word 
bucket."  This a place where interesting words, written on word tickets, are 
kept to be used when someone needs inspiration for a poem.
    Then pass out the handout "Sensitizing Exercises" from Participating in 
the Poem.  This asks the students to recall memories based on their senses.  
=Using this as a springboard ask them to recall a memory of their own.  Ask 
them to make a list of sense words about it.  They can use the list on the 
board/overhead, their own personal list, or any others they think up.  Be as 
specific as possible.  They should strive for strong nouns and verbs that can 
stand on their own and make an impression.  Give them time to write a poem 
based on the sensory experiences they recalled.  Then ask volunteers to share.
    Another method, especially useful with younger or reluctant writers, is 
to use the "Five Senses Poem."  This is a formulaic five line poem.  In the 
first line an emotion is given a color: Love is red, is popular among seventh 
graders.  Then the emotion is given a concrete description for each of the 
other four senses, with each sense is given its own line:  It sounds like     
  , It smells like          , It tastes like         , and It feels like      
  .  It must be stressed that "feels" refers to the physical sensation of 
touch, not an emotional feeling.
    Usually students are both impressed and a little amazed to find that such 
good poetry can come from this type of writing.  Explain that the poems all 
strike a chord because the senses make them universal.  We all can relate to 
what another's senses say.  We all have experience with that.