Friday, March 22, 2013

REVIEW - The Art of Poetry

Older (age 9?) children should practice reading aloud every day, and their readings "should include a good deal of poetry, to accustom him to the delicate rendering of shades of meaning, and especially to make him aware that words are beautiful in themselves, that they are a source of pleasure, and are worthy of our honour; and that a beautiful word deserves to be beautifully said, with a certain roundness of tone and precision of utterance. Quite young children are open to this sort of teaching, conveyed, not in a lesson, but by a word now and then."
- Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 227
I've mentioned before that I wanted to add more poetry into our homeschool days this year. When I thought about what I knew, I had vague memories of learning about poetry in fits and starts throughout high school and college. In fact, I still have my college poetry book. I knew I wanted my kids to learn about form and meter and "stuff," but left to my own devices, I had no idea where to start or what to teach.

Thus, I was pleased to receive a copy of Classical Academic Press' The Art of Poetry curriculum to review. I received a copy of the The Art of Poetry Teacher's Edition, a copy of The Art of Poetry Student Text, and a DVD with the first two lessons from the Art of Poetry DVD Set.The course is intended for children in middle school through high school.

The goal of The Art of Poetry is to teach students to read closely, to develop a relationship with the poems they encounter. As I learn more about Charlotte Mason's principles of education, I see that children are taught to be close observers of life, of creation. Charlotte Mason said that "education is the science of relations," and Christine Perrin, the author of this program, says that "reading a book is like learning to listen to another person--we have to work to listen and to understand to the best of our ability based on our own perspective and experience." (p. xiv, Introduction to the Teacher) I love this quote from Miss Mason's book, Ourselves, the only volume of her 6-book series written to children:
"There are libraries, too––such libraries! containing every book of delight that ever was written. When anybody sits down to read, the author who made the book comes and leans over his shoulder and talks to him. I forgot to say that in the picture-galleries the old painters do the same thing; they come and say what they meant by it all." 
- C. Mason, Ourselves, Book 1, p. 3
Do you not love the image of your favorite authors leaning over your shoulder, sharing their thoughts with you? I know I do (and I would especially appreciate it if some of the painters would clue me in, too, but that's a topic for another day).

All that to say, I felt a connection with Ms. Perrin and her goals for her poetry program. She states that "literature is asks us to come into relationship with it in such a way that we might be changed and instructed in the way in which we conduct our lives." She then says that "interpretation aids this process. However, writing a teacher's guide that provides interpretations of poems is risky. The concern is that you might not mine the poem yourself if the silver is already there for the taking." (p. xii, Introduction to the Teacher) I appreciate that she knows the danger of simply telling students what a poem contains - she cautions us to be sure we seek and find for ourselves. I believe Miss Mason would have applauded that.

Now, on to the review! There is a *ton* of information in this program. It is organized into three main sections:
  • The Elements of Poetry:  images, metaphor, symbols, words, sound, rhythm, shape (stanza and line) and tone (putting it all together)
  • The Formal History of Poetry: including history of form, movements, genres; verse forms; shaping forms; open verse; and an anthology of narrative poems (see the table of contents here)
  • Application: growing your interest, perhaps with a writer's journal, a notebook of favorite poems, or starting a poetry group, along with many other suggestions
Each chapter in the student book includes an anthology with discussion questions and vocabulary words for each poem, as well as a list of activities. The Teacher's Edition includes everything from the student book, as well as explanations and answers that go along with questions for each poem, and a poetry timeline. Both the teacher and student books have a section with short biographies for each of the poets covered.  There are some great online resources for the course as well: Christine Perrin keeps a blog called The Art of Poetry Online, which includes many teaching helps; audio files of readings of some of the poems from each chapter you can download; and suggested weekly schedules of  different ways you could choose to work through the program.

My girls and I started using the course by watching the first DVD lesson on Imagery. We enjoyed it very much, particularly because the chapter includes a poem by Robert Frost (my favorite poet). I had them work on a couple of the activities, including writing out images for each season, figuring out which of our 5 senses was the most important to us, and discussing images that are important to us. We read the poems in the chapter together, and really enjoyed discussing the images in them. I love Robert Frost's poem, "Dust of Snow," because of the image it creates in my mind. It was a great exercise to verbalize that mental picture.

The second chapter covers metaphor. We love several of the poems in this chapter! "Hope is the Thing with Feathers" by Emily Dickinson is dear to my heart. "Nothing Gold Can Stay" is my very favorite Robert Frost poem, and the discussion questions helped me see things I hadn't before. We also read "I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud" by William Wordsworth, which is a poem Emma loves. It was such fun to look at both beloved and new poems in a new way as we sought out metaphors!

While we did enjoy the DVD lessons, the second one on metaphor was VERY long. We tried to watch it all in one sitting, and in retrospect, we should have watched a poem or two per day and discussed them, rather than trying to absorb them all at once. I found the DVDs to be quite useful, hearing others read the poems and discuss their impressions. It's helpful to see how others analyze poems while we're learning to do it ourselves.  

I am not a "poetry person," if you know what I mean, but I am a poetry wannabe. I am getting every bit as much out of The Art of Poetry as my children are, and I'm enjoying every minute. It's certainly challenging us. We are working our way through the material slowly, so we can learn without overloading our brains. I really like the suggestion in the book of spreading it out over more than one year, because there is so much information to process..

Whether you are a poetry lover who wants to share that passion, or a wannabe like me who hopes to foster a love for poetry in herself and her children, you will find The Art of Poetry to be a valuable tool on your journey. The girls and I are already able to see things in our daily poetry readings that we didn't before, and I look forward to creating our own personal personal anthologies and increasing our knowledge with this program.

You can purchase The Art of Poetry directly from Classical Academic Press:

The Art of Poetry Student Text, $24.95
The Art of Poetry Teacher's Edition, $29.95
The Art of Poetry DVD Set, $69.95
The Art of Poetry Bundle, including student text, teacher's edition, and DVD set, $99

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Crew!

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