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LESSON 1: Mimicry

We learn from our favorite writers


I like Galway Kinnell.  His poetry has a simplicity to it that captures emotion so perfectly.  One of my favorites is this poem simply titled "Oatmeal" in which he imagines having breakfast with a fellow poet - Keats.


Oatmeal by Galway Kinnell

listen to Kinnell read the poem by clicking HERE


I eat oatmeal for breakfast.
I make it on the hot plate and put skimmed milk on it.
I eat it alone. 
I am aware it is not good to eat oatmeal alone.
Its consistency is such that is better for your mental health 
if somebody eats it with you.
That is why I often think up an imaginary companion to have 
breakfast with.
Possibly it is even worse to eat oatmeal with an imaginary 
Nevertheless, yesterday morning, I ate my oatmeal porridge, 
as he called it with John Keats.
Keats said I was absolutely right to invite him: 
due to its glutinous texture, gluey lumpishness, hint of slime, 
and unsual willingness to disintigrate, oatmeal should 
not be eaten alone.
He said that in his opinion, however, it is perfectly OK to eat 
it with an imaginary companion, and that he himself had 
enjoyed memorable porridges with Edmund Spenser and John 
Even if eating oatmeal with an imaginary companion is not as 
wholesome as Keats claims, still, you can learn something 
from it.
Yesterday morning, for instance, Keats told me about writing the 
"Ode to a Nightingale."
He had a heck of a time finishing it those were his words "Oi 'ad 
a 'eck of a toime," he said, more or less, speaking through 
his porridge.
He wrote it quickly, on scraps of paper, which he then stuck in his 
but when he got home he couldn't figure out the order of the stanzas, 
and he and a friend spread the papers on a table, and they 
made some sense of them, but he isn't sure to this day if 
they got it right. 
An entire stanza may have slipped into the lining of his jacket 
through a hole in his pocket.
He still wonders about the occasional sense of drift between stanzas, 
and the way here and there a line will go into the 
configuration of a Moslem at prayer, then raise itself up 
and peer about, and then lay \ itself down slightly off the mark, 
causing the poem to move forward with a reckless, shining wobble.
He said someone told him that later in life Wordsworth heard about 
the scraps of paper on the table, and tried shuffling some 
stanzas of his own, but only made matters worse.
I would not have known any of this but for my reluctance to eat oatmeal 
When breakfast was over, John recited "To Autumn."
He recited it slowly, with much feeling, and he articulated the words 
lovingly, and his odd accent sounded sweet.
He didn't offer the story of writing "To Autumn," I doubt if there 
is much of one.
But he did say the sight of a just-harvested oat field go thim started 
on it, and two of the lines, "For Summer has o'er-brimmed their 
clammy cells" and "Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours," 
came to him while eating oatmeal alone. 
I can see him drawing a spoon through the stuff, gazing into the glimmering 
furrows, muttering.
Maybe there is no sublime; only the shining of the amnion's tatters.
For supper tonight I am going to have a baked potato left over from lunch.
I am aware that a leftover baked potato is damp, slippery, and simultaneaously 
gummy and crumbly, and therefore I'm going to invite Patrick Kavanagh 
to join me. 


We can learn from our favorite poets by looking at what they do in terms of what they choose to write about and how they write about that subject.  Let's tackle the WHAT first.  We'll do that by writing our own poem about someone, living or dead, famous or not, that we imagine ourselves having breakfast with.  Here's my poem:


Sunday Morning by J. Ward


Fluffy warm pancakes stick in the throat without syrup,

which is why they should not be eaten alone.

A supervisor for the syrup is necessary.

Aunt Jermima will do.

She eyes me suspiciously from across the table.

She’s worried I will lose her cap,

having accidentally sent is skidding across the floor

when she handed it to me.

Later she reaches up to wipe the sticky rivulets

I’ve let drip into her hair.

She glares back at me with that

how-dare-you look,

and I know what’s coming:

a long lecture about the use of disparaging

racial stereotypes in advertising.

She’s right, but

not quite what I was hoping for over

Sunday morning breakfast.

She ticks off on her fingers all the ways

I’ve kept her oppressed in the pantry.

She’s planning a protest with Uncle Ben.

The Zataran’s band will play the marching music,

and Dr. Pepper will give the keynote address.

Tomorrow I think I’ll invite

Mrs. Butterworth instead.


Now let's look at HOW poets do what they do.  First, head to our stack of poetry books or go to Poets.org or Poetry 180.  Find a poem that you like.  Write the title and author of the poem into your Writer's Notebook.  If you find the poem online, print it out to add to your notebook.  Once you've found a poem you love, take a closer look at it.  In your Writer's Notebook, answer the following questions:


  1. What do you notice about the title?  Does the poet use the title as the first line of the poem or does the title come from one of the lines of the poem?  What does the title tell you?
  2. What does the poem look like on the page?  Is the poem centered on the page or left justified?  Are there multiple stanzas? Do the stanzas have the same number of lines? Are the lines long or short? Describe how the poem is formatted.
  3. Does the poem have rhyme?  Do you notice rhymes at the end of lines or are there internal rhymes?
  4. Does the poem have rhythm?  Read the poem out loud to yourself.  Do you notice a rhythm to the poem? Do each of the lines have the same number of syllables?
  5. What sorts of words does the poet use?  Does the writer use a lot of vivid imagery and adjectives? Or, does the poet use slang? Does the poet use dialogue to give the poem voice? Or does the writer use very formal academic diction?
  6. What literary devices does the writer use? Does the poet use a lot of similes and metaphors? Can you find alliteration?  Does the writer use sarcasm or irony?  Personification?  What literary devices do you notice?



Once you've analyzed the STYLE of the poem you've selected, now try to mimic that style in a poem of your own.  You do not have to write about the same topic as your selected poem.  Instead, try to mimic the style that your selected writer use.  Try to keep the same format, rhythm, rhyme, and diction.  Jot down and initial draft of your mimicry poem in your Writer's Notebook, and later use the computer to put together a more polished, typed copy. 

LESSON 2: The Importance of Titles


This poem by Silvia Plath hinges on its title.  The title gives away the object described in this poem.  What do you think the title is?


I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.

 What ever you see I swallow immediately

Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.

I am not cruel, only truthful---

The eye of a little god, four-cornered.

Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.

It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long

I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.

Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,

Searching my reaches for what she really is.

Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.

I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.

She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.

I am important to her. She comes and goes.

Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.

In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman

Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

NOW write a similar poem, where you don't state what the object is that you are writing about, instead leaving it as the title.


LESSON 3: What is Poetry?

Read the following “definition” by San Francisco’s poet laureate, Lawrence Ferlinghetti.


What is Poetry?

There are no doubt as many definitions of poetry as there are poems. Perhaps more, since there are more poetry professors and critics than there are poets. Perhaps there's a need in the new century for some new definitions. Or perhaps the golden oldies will hold up better than any. Risking the derision of postmodern eggheads, I'll put some of my old ones and some of my new ones to the test of the 21st century:


Poetry is news from the frontiers of consciousness.

Poetry is what we would cry out upon awaking in a dark wood in the middle of the journey of our life.

A poem is a mirror walking down a street full of visual delight.

Poetry is the shook foil of the imagination. It should shine out and half-blind you.

Poetry is the sun streaming down in the meshes of morning.

Poetry is white nights and mouths of desire.

Poetry is made by dissolving halos in the ocean of sound.

Poetry is the street talk of angels and devils.

Poetry is a sofa full of blind singers who have put aside their canes.

Poetry is the anarchy of the senses making sense.

Poetry is the voice of the fourth person singular.

Poetry is all things born with wings that sing.

A poem should arise to ecstasy, somewhere between speech and song.

Poetry is a voice of dissent against the waste of words and the mad plethora of print.

Poetry is what exists between the lines.

Poetry is made with the syllables of dreams.

Poetry is far, far cries upon a beach at nightfall.

Poetry is a lighthouse moving its megaphone over the sea.

Poetry is a picture of Ma in her Woolworth bra looking out a window into a secret garden.

Poetry is an Arab carrying colored rugs and birdcages through the streets of a great metropolis.

A poem can be made of common household ingredients. It fits on a single page yet it can fill a world and fits in the pocket of a heart.

Poetry is pillow-thought after intercourse. The poet is a street singer who rescues the alley cats of love.

Poetry is the distillation of articulate animals calling to each other over a great gulf.

Poetry is the dialogue of statues.

Poetry is the sound of summer in the rain and of people laughing behind closed shutters down a narrow street.

Poetry is the incomparable lyric intelligence brought to bear upon 57 varieties of experience.

Poetry is a high house echoing with all the voices that ever said anything crazy or wonderful.

Poetry is a subversive raid upon the forgotten language of the collective unconscious.

Poetry is a real canary in a coal mine, and we know why the caged bird sings.

Poetry is the shadow cast by our streetlight imaginations.

Poetry is the voice within the voice of the turtle.

Poetry is the face behind the face of the race.

Poetry is made of night thoughts. If it can tear itself away from illusion, it will not be disowned before the dawn.

Poetry is made by evaporating the liquid laughter of youth.

Poetry is a book of light at night.

Poetry is the final gestalt of the imagination.

Poetry should be emotion recollected in emotion.

Words are living fossils. The poet should piece the live beast together and make it sing.

A poet is only as great as his ear. Too bad if it is tin.

The poet must be a subversive barbarian at the city gates, constantly questioning reality and reinventing it.

Let the poet be a singing animal turned pimp for an anarchist king.

The poet mixes drinks out of the insane liquors of the imagination and is perpetually surprised that no one staggers.

The poet should be a dark barker before the tents of existence.

Poetry is what can be heard at manholes echoing up Dante's fire escape.

The poet must have wide-angle vision, each look a world glance, and the concrete is most poetic.

Poetry is not all heroin, horses and Rimbaud. It is also the whisper of elephants and the powerless prayers of airline passengers fastening their seat belts for the final descent.

Poetry is the real subject of great prose.

Each poem should be a momentary madness, and the unreal is realist.

Like a bowl of roses, a poem should not have to be explained.

A poem is its own Coney Island of the mind, its own circus of the soul, its own Far Rockaway of the heart.

Poetry should still be an insurgent knock on the door of the unknown.



Lawrence Ferlinghetti is San Francisco's first poet laureate. His “Poetry as News” column runs monthly in Book Review.



After reading Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s, what is your definition of poetry? How do you feel about it?

What does it mean? What is poetry to you? Write a poem about poetry. Your poem must be a minimum of 10 lines. Be creative and get in touch with your inner muse. What is poetry to YOU?







In order to read, write, and talk about poetry, there are a few terms you need to know.  Work with a partner to define the terms below.  Here are a couple of great websites to help you:


  1.  Alliteration: 
  2.  Allusion: 
  3.  Ballad: 
  4.  Connotation: 
  5.  Couplet: 
  6.  Denotation: 
  7.  Hyperbole: 
  8.  Imagery: 
  9.  Meter: 
  10. Oxymoron: 
  11. Poet Laureate: 
  12. Refrain: 
  13. Rhyme: (end rhyme) 
  14. Stanza:




  • Blank verse: unrhymed poems that have a regular rhythm (also called meter). Each line usually has ten syllables and five of the syllables are stressed (generally the second, fourth, sixth, eighth, and tenth).

Example:         But, SOFT! What LIGHT through YONder WINdow BREAKS?

It IS the EAST, and JUliet IS the SUN!

-- William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

  • Epic poetry:
  • Free verse:

Example:         When Lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd,

And the great star early droop'd in the western sky in the night,

I mourn'd and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

-- Walt Whitman, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd"

  • Haiku: a lyric form that represents the poet's impression of a natural object or scene, viewed at a particular season or month, in exactly seventeen syllables (three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables).
  • Lyric poetry:

Types of lyrical poetry:

Ballad:            a simple, narrative verse which tells a story to be sung or recited; the folk ballad is anonymously handed down while the literary ballad has a single author.

Elegy:              a poem of lament, meditating on the death of a person.

Ode:                an elaborate lyric verse which deals seriously with a dignified theme.

  • Narrative poetry:
  • Sonnet: a rigid, fourteen-line verse with variable structure and rhyme scheme according to type:

Shakespearean sonnet:        three quatrains and a concluding couplet in iambic

pentameter, rhyming ABAB CDCD EFEF GG or ABBA CDDC EFFE GG.  

Petrarchan sonnet:               an octave and a sestet between which a break in thought occurs. The traditional rhyme scheme is ABBA ABBA CDE CDE or ABBA ABBA CDCDCD.

What is Poetry?



TYPES AND TERMS – But how do you write poetry?


QUESTION: Okay, so we’ve tried to craft a definition of what poetry is, and we’ve explored different types of poetry, but how do you write this stuff?


ANSWER: I don’t know.


BETTER ANSWER:  There is no answer.  Writing poetry is different for every writer.  Some poets are very organized and methodical in the way they write.  Others carry around a notebook much like our Writer’s Notebook and wait, listening for the words the world shares.  Poetry is different from prose (stories) in that because poems are shorter, every word is chosen deliberately.  Every word has a purpose.  Poets pay attention to how words work together to create rhythm and sound. Poetry is not just about the message being shared, but how the words work together on the page, how they sound when read out loud. 


But there’s no one right way to write poetry.  And so the best answer to the question of how to write poetry is simply this: play.  Play with words. Play with how they are arranged on the page. Play with how they sound next to one another.  Let loose your imagination and connect odd descriptions and whimsical words.  Poetry is about capturing the uncapturable, about looking at the world from a slightly different perspective. So have fun!




Select one of the forms of poetry from the previous page – blank verse, free verse, ballad, ode, etc.  Find an example of your selected style from Poets.org (use the search box in the upper right of the page).  Use your example to write your own style of that poem.  Use the space below to help you draft.


POETRY FORM:____________________________________________________________________________________________

TITLE OF EXAMPLE POEM:_________________________________________________________________________________  

AUTHOR OF EXAMPLE:____________________________________________________________________________________





LESSON 4: Line Breaks

Where do you break your lines?

(original source for this lesson)


What is a poetic line?

A line is a unit of words in a poem, and it can vary in length. According to Oliver (1994), "The first obvious difference between prose and poetry is that prose is printed (or written) within the confines of margin, while poetry is written in lines that do not necessarily pay any attention to the margins, especially the right margin" (35).


An example

Here are three lines from Robert Creeley's poem "The Language":

   Locate I

   love you some-

   where in



What is enjambment?

Enjambment is breaking a line but not ending the sentence. Enjambment is when a poet carries over a sentence from one line to the other.


An example

There are multiple examples of enjambment in these lines from Robert Creeley's poem "The Language." Notice how this single sentence is carried over from one line to the next and over multiple stanzas, and all the lines break abruptly.

Locate I

love you some-

where in


teeth and

eyes, bite

it but


take care not

to hurt, you

want so


much so



Robert Creeley and The Line

One of the masters of enjambment and the line is the poet Robert Creeley. As you can see above, Creeley's line breaks are often startling and unexpected. To find out more about Creeley's unique use of the line (or breaking the line):


Robert Creeley's "The Language"

Here is the complete poem of Robert Creeley's "The Language":


The Language



Locate I

love you some-

where in


teeth and

eyes, bite

it but


take care not

to hurt, you

want so


much so

little. Words

say everything.

Ilove you



then what

is emptiness

for. To


fill, fill.

I heard words

and words full


of holes

aching. Speech

is a mouth.




Robert Creeley's "The Language": An Animated Version


An animated poem of Robert Creeley's "The Language" read by Carl Hancock Rux:

open player in a new window


ASSIGNMENT: "Creeleyizing" A Poem

Look back at the poem that you wrote for today's Writer's Notebook entry. For the purposes of this assignment, it is best if the poem consists of lines at least ten syllables in length and/or heavily end-stopped lines (meaning that punctuation appears at the end of the line). After you have selected a poem, "Creeleyize" your poem. In other words, rewrite your poem by breaking your lines at unexpected moments (like Creeley does in a number of his poems), creating frequent enjambment and short lines.


Assignment Purpose:

The purpose of this assignment is to revise the line breaks of your poem, exploring ways in which your changes in line breaks and line length open up new meanings and points of emphasis in the poem. It might also suggest possibilities for further revision to imagery and sound.

Some Questions to Consider After Your Revision:

      • Does the change in line breaks help reinforce the rhythm of the poem? Or does it seem distracting?
      • Is the change in breaks in the poem appropriate for the meaning of the piece? In other words, does this new form enhance the content of the poem?
      • What words and phrases stand out to you in this revision that did not stand out before? How does this change the poem?
      • What additional ways might you revise the poem to explore other possibilities for making meaning, sound or word play?


Take a look at this poem that Ms. Ward wrote, and then read through the revision she made when she "Creeleyized" the poem.  Which do you like better? 





Expecting the call

                yesterday, next week, in a year.

Not expecting

                to hear my father’s voice quiver.

                no words

                eldest son to his eldest daughter.


Skin pulled tight,

            knuckles white,

grasping through the phone for a connection

miles, states, ages away,

wanting to reach through the line,

to understand.


First thoughts

do not fly to schedules,

are not overwhelmed with how to tell the little ones,

            or memories of summers spent

playing croquet with Gramps in the backyard.


My first thoughts are

                what can I say to

                my fatherless father. 


REVISED:  Speechless


Expecting the call


next week,

in a year.

Not expecting

             to hear

 my father’s voice


No words

            eldest son

to his

eldest daughter.


Skin pulled tight,

            knuckles white,

grasping through the

phone for a connection



ages away,

wanting to


through the line,

to understand.


First thoughts

do not

 fly to schedules,

are not


how to tell the little ones,

                         or memories

summers spent

playing croquet with

Gramps in the backyard.


My first thoughts

            what can I

say to

            my fatherless father.  


Graded Pieces for POETRY 

Each of your three polished poems for will be graded using the following rubric.



10 points


8 points


6 points


4 points


A single controlling point or theme is evident with an awareness of the format of the mode of writing.  A distinct and controlling idea/theme drives the piece of writing.

Apparent point made about a single topic or theme with sufficient awareness of mode of writing.

No coherent point or theme to piece but evidence of a specific topic.

Minimal evidence of a topic.


The presence of ideas developed through deliberately chosen diction and vivid descriptions.  Substantial, specific and illustrative content demonstrating strong development of vivid imagery and sophisticated ideas.  The piece is full of concrete imagery.

Sufficiently developed content with adequate elaboration or explanation.

Limited content with inadequate elaboration or explanation.

Superficial and/or minimal content.


Sophisticated arrangement of content. The format of the poem is consistent and adds to the content of the poem.  Regardless of the format of the piece, it is obvious that the student thought about how to organize ideas.

Functional arrangement of content that sustains a logical order with some evidence of transitions.

Confused or inconsistent arrangement of content without attempts at transitions.

Minimal control of content arrangement.


 The student creates a clear and unique voice through precise, illustrative use of a variety of words and sentence structures.  The writer's voice and tone appropriate to audience.

Generic/cliché use of a variety of words and sentence structures that may or may not create writer's voice and tone appropriate to audience.

Limited word choice and control of sentence structures that inhibit voice and tone.

Minimal variety in word choice and minimal control of sentence structures.


Evident control of grammar, mechanics, spelling, usage and sentence formation.

Sufficient control of grammar, mechanics, spelling, usage, and sentence formation.

Limited control of grammar, mechanics, spelling, usage, and sentence formation.

Minimal control of grammar, mechanics, spelling, usage, and sentence formation.



Writer's Notebook

You have been using your Notebook to brainstorm ideas for your more polished poems.  Your Notebook will be checked THURSDAY.  I will be looking for the following:


  • Friday, December 14: Music – Analyze the lyrics to a favorite song and write a piece using that style as your guide
  • Monday, December 17: Breakfast – Mimic the style and content of Gallway Kinnel’s poem titled “Oatmeal”.  Write a poem imagining someone you would have breakfast with.
  • Tuesday, December 18: The How – Analyzing the style of a poem by answering six questions
  • Wednesday, December 19: The Importance of Titles – Write a poem in which the title gives away what the poem is about
  • Thursday, December 20: First Lines – Steal a line from a poem and use it as the first line of yours.
  • Thursday, December 20: Terminology and Type – definitions for our 14 terms (in packet) and writing a piece is a particular form (blank verse, free verse, ballad, ode, etc.)
  • Wednesday, January 2: Memory Poem – Write a poem based on memory and then “Creelyze” it.
  • Thursday, January 3: Ballad – Using examples to write your own ballad


Each of the eight entries is worth five points, making the Notebook worth 40 points.  I am not looking at how well you wrote; we’re not worried about grammar and mechanics in our Notebooks.  Instead, I am interested in seeing how you have used your Notebook; I should see various brainstorms and potential drafts for more polished pieces.




Class Website Participation

By the close of our next class period, you have added at least one of your poems to our class website as a blog and have provided thoughtful, specific feedback to at least two of your classmate's on their work.  You will receive 10 points for posting your poem and requesting specific feedback for your work.  You will receive 5 points for each of the two comments that you provide to your fellow classmates.  You will receive 20 points total for your class website participation.





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