Poet G.C. Waldrep on prompting students to write outside their comfort zones
How does one teach poetry, and what should a student of poetry hope to learn? A: One way to teach poetry is to give students good models. Usually, I start with famous poets such as Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, from which a lot of contemporary poetry takes its cue. The key question I ask is not so much "How does it work?" or "What does it mean?" as "How does it mean?" I use writing prompts to draw students out of their initial comfort zones. It takes some work to draw out the human experience and craft it into an original work of art.
One prompt I often use in this way is to have each student write a character type and an action on a sheet of paper. Then, I have them rip the paper in half and hand the character to the left and the action to the right. What each student gets is his or her prompt — and they have to write from that. One of the best poems I received from a Bucknell student was from this prompt. The student received "Harry Potter" as the character type and "...cries" as the action. The poem she wrote was in the voice of Harry Potter, talking back to his creator, J.K. Rowling, asking why she never let him cry in her novels.