Wednesday, April 11, 2012

National Poetry Month...with a wildlife twist

April is National Poetry Month! From the website: "Inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month is now held every April, when publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, schools and poets around the country band together to celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture. Thousands of businesses and non-profit organizations participate through readings, festivals, book displays, workshops, and other events."

Poetry has held a place in many cultures for thousands of years.  The Japanese consider it an art, European authors have expressed political and cultural messages and feeling though poetry for centuries.  And, in America, many naturalists have used peotry to convey the beauty of the American landscape for generations.  Some examples include:

Low-Anchored Cloud
Low-anchored cloud,
Newfoundland air,
Fountain-head and source of rivers,
Dew-cloth, dream-drapery,
And napkin spread by fays;
Drifting meadow of the air,
Where bloom the daisied banks and violets,
And in whose fenny labyrinth
The bittern booms and heron wades;
Spirit of lakes and seas and rivers,
Bear only perfumes and the scent
Of healing herbs to just men's fields!
by Henry David Thoreau

The Dalliance of the Eagles
Skirting the river road, (my forenoon walk, my rest,)
Skyward in air a sudden muffled sound, the dalliance of the eagles,
The rushing amorous contact high in space together,
The clinching interlocking claws, a living, fierce, gyrating wheel,
Four beating wings, two beaks, a swirling mass tight grappling,
In tumbling turning clustering loops, straight downward falling
Till o'er the river pois'd, the twain yet one, a moment's lull,
A motionless still balance in the air, then parting, talons loosing,
Upward again on slow-firm pinions slanting, their separate diverse flight,
She hers, he his, pursuing.
by Walt Whitman

Writing and poetry are fantastic ways to help kids learn more about nature and wildlife.  And, as you can see in the above examples, poetry allows for beauty and expressiveness that can often be left out of regular narrative writing. 

One exercise that we've often done with students and adults is the Project WILD activity Animal Poetry.   The objective of this activity is to help students recognize and experience the inspirational value of wildlife through poetry.  The students spend time outside and imagine themselves as animals, then write poems about that experience. 

Some suggested poem formats include Haiku, which is a Japanese lyric verse form that has three unryhmed lines that have 5, 7 and 5 syllables.  Haiku traditionally and ideally presents a pair of contrasting images: one suggestive of time and place, the other a vivid but fleeting observation.  When they work together, the poem evokes mood and emotion.  An example follows:

The hawk soared over
Spirit bird in my living
Guide to harmony

Any guesses on what species of hawk this is?
 Another suggested format is Cinquain.  This is an American derived format that is comprised of five unrhyming lines of, respectively, two, four, six, eight and two syllables or words.  Each line has a purpose and number of syllables or words as follows: line 1 is a title of two syllables (words), line 2 is a description of the title in 4 syllables (words), line 3 is a descriptive action in 6 syllables (words), line 4 is a description of a feeling in 8 syllables (words) , and line 5 is another word for the title in two syllables or words.  An example follows:

Vital, quiet
Moving swiftly to live
Endangered by human patterns
Near lost

And finally, Diamante is a poem that can be used with students.  It is a poem shaped in the form of a diamond.  It can be used to show that words are related through shades of meaning from one extreme to an opposite extreme, following a pattern of parts of speech like this:

adjective  adjective
participle  participle  participle
noun  noun  noun  noun
participle  participle  participle
adjective  adjective

If you are having trouble remembering what a participle is, it is word that functions as a verb, but ends in ing or ed.  So you might be "carrying" something, carrying is a participle.  An example of a Diamante follows:

light bright
living stretching growing
bird beak wing flight
soaring seeing seeking
feathered fluid

Students can take their completed poems and type them or print them neatly and then display them with their focus animal, either illustrated or with a photograph.  Some follow-up questions to ask the students after their lesson could be a discussion on why some people say they would not want to live in a world without animals, would they want to live in a world without animals, what kinds of wildlife would they want to see regularly, and why.

So, enjoy April as National Poetry Month. And take your kids outside to find all that nature has to offer for inspiration.  There is no shortage no matter where you are.  You just have to look for it!