by Jeffrey Norman
Unfortunately, poetry sometimes can petrify. A reputation for ambiguity and pretension has hindered the art form; students, especially adults, can greet a haiku or sonnet with apprehension. But poetry's bad rap can be cleansed for learners. Outstanding poems with manifold satisfying meanings and interpretations do exist -- it's up to educators to locate them and present them to students with grace and optimism. Adults also can benefit from the creation of their own poetic material.
1. Maintain a positive, warm attitude. Poems can seem cryptic and inaccessible, and grown-up students can be results-oriented and skeptical about new ideas. This can translate into students who give up on a poem when the meaning is not immediately clear, or the subject of which doesn't seem at first to be important or relevant.
Demonstrate patience and understanding motivated by these reasons. Present the idea of poetry as a set of questions, not as a search for any definite meaning. Clarify what readers should expect in a poem: interesting images, engaging words and sounds, unique ideas and viewpoints -- but no single interpretation set in stone.
- 2. Capitalize on the well-rounded opinions, maturity and independence of adult learners with exposure to many different types and figures in poetry. Diverse material will elicit equally diverse attitudes and thoughts on that material, making for a lively setting where everyone can benefit from the multiple assessments of the work. Encourage students to even bring in poems or collections from poets that they themselves select and offer to the class. This is a way to interest adult learners in poetry while respecting their self-sufficiency.
- 3 .Harness
adult learners' capacity for self-direction and life experience by encouraging
them to write their own poetry. Expose them to basic elements of poetry: rhyme,
image, rhythm, metaphor, alliteration and more. Once they have seen fundamental
principles at work and in practice, set them free to create works based on
their lives, their imaginations or (ideally) a combination of the two. Remind
them that "right or wrong" doesn't exist in poetry. Invite adult
students to read their work if they'd like to; don't pressure anyone to expose
work before they're comfortable.