By Mary Morrell | Managing Editor
In an age of truncated language, emoticons and hashtags, students in the Diocese of Trenton are still embracing an ancient form of communication made new in every generation– poetry.
Art and language historians explain that poetry, in the form of verbal story-telling and music, existed well before literacy and was an essential form of communicating. Family and community memories were passed on, and an identity formed.
Today, with so many modes of communication and so many new things to learn, the value of poetry has been lost to some – but not to all.
“In an age of tweets, when information is conveyed instantaneously, it is easy to read, react, and then discard the information,” said Maureen Madden, fourth and fifth grade language arts teacher in St. Veronica School, Howell. “We sometimes lose a sense of the depth and meaning which are so important. By encouraging our students to appreciate and to create poetry, we invite them to reflect on and to ponder that which is important and lasting.”
Bridget Burlage, seventh grade language arts teacher in Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, Maple Shade, sees poetry as a ”written art form and young students are able to explore their feelings through writing. Those students who feel they lack artistic talents have an avenue available to express themselves. The words become the paint and the paper becomes the canvas. The young soul connects with their inner selves and their imagination seeks a new frontier. It gives them a much needed voice and a way to discover who they are.”
Simply put, said a to-the-point fourth grader in St. Paul School, Princeton, “Writing poetry is fun. I give poems to my family and friends.”
Her teacher, Megan Gramlich, is not surprised. For many students, family is not only an important subject of their poems, but students enjoy writing poems as gifts for family members. “The gifts of these poems serve as thoughtful and heartfelt ways for a child to express love and feelings – without having to spend anything,” she said, adding, “I believe poetry of some kind is taught in every grade level. I often see many acrostic poems displayed in the younger-grade hallway, but I think the first children hear of poetic forms, imagery, rhyme scheme, and rhythm when they get to me. We study the poems of poets and poetic form. We respond to the poetry we read through poetry of our own.”
Teachers across the board explain that students write about many different topics, depending on their age, including activities they are involved in, pets, friends, nature, and even their teachers. “I received a poem that was entirely about books as a gift from one student. In general, students are looking to the things in their immediate world, things they form strong feelings and connections to, when they delve into poetry. Their poems are relatable and heartwarming,” Gramlich said.
High school students, like those in Donovan Catholic, Toms River, also “write poetry that makes a commentary on social issues, being a teenager in the 21st century, the angst of growing up,” said Naomi Buechner, teacher of creative writing and English, who was proud to say, “Poetry is alive and well in Donovan Catholic.”
In fact, the school has a literary posting on the school website entitled, “Serendipity,” edited by Buechner and filled with student poetry and prose, she said, noting that “most of the serious poets have writing circles that they joined on their own, on-line, before they came to Donovan.”
Sophia Serrano, one of Trenton Catholic Academy’s serious eighth grade poets, describes poetry as “a form of art…a more creative way to express yourself through words.” She is among the seventh and eighth grade students taught by language arts teacher Sarah Thomas, who said that poetry is taught throughout TCA and is frequently focused on faith.
Religious themes are also part of the writing process in St. Veronica School, said Madden. “For example, after a lesson on the Psalms, students are invited to compose their own psalm of praise or thanks. During the season of Advent, younger students write acoustic poems using titles of Jesus. During the Lenten Season last year, the fourth and fifth graders wrote beautiful reflections titled, ‘Look to the Cross,’” she said.
What makes poetry popular with students, said Gramlich, is the artistic expression of feelings that students are more comfortable with than in other forms of artistry. “They don’t feel like they have to be masters in order to write poetry that pleases themselves and those around them,” she stressed.
A young poet in Our Lady of Perpetual Help School expressed it this way: “Poetry makes me feel happy. I’m not good at many things, but poetry is something I can do and be myself. The rhymes are beautiful. The words on the page make me smile. Poetry is the seed that made me learn to love to read.”
Gramlich explained that their poetry unit in St. Paul School corresponds to the novel, “Love That Dog” by Sharon Creech, told entirely in the poetry of a young boy, Jack, reflecting on the death of his beloved dog. “The students have quite an emotional response to Jack’s poem,” she said. “They have bonded closely to him. In turn, they’re inspired to write through their own difficult situations. One child, after reading the book, wrote about his grandmother who had passed away earlier that year. Another child wrote a poem expressing his love for his mother, despite her struggles with deafness.”
In this day and age, said Kelly Fleagle, language arts teacher in St. Paul School, Burlington, “I believe poetry is important because it allows students to explore their minds and express themselves in ways they never thought possible. Poetry gives students an opportunity to write without rules and focus on the true message behind their work. I like to teach my students that it’s not only what the poem says, it’s how the poem makes you feel after reading it that’s important.”
To give students a venue for sharing their creative works, TCA poets participate in the Upper School Creativity Fair, where they present their poems to peers and the community.
In addition, six student poets had their work published in 2014 in the Arts Council of Princeton’s 26th volume of “aMuse:Poetry, Prose and Artwork.”
Student poets and teachers in Our Lady of Perpetual Help School are excited about the prospect of their first literary and arts magazine for fifth-eighth graders: “The Nazarene.” Students will be able to submit artwork, photographs, poetry, and short stories for publication. “It’s important that students have an outlet for art and self-expression. It allows them to develop their God-given talents, and fosters a love for lifelong learning and curiosity,” said Burlage.