I Need Other Slithy Toves
September 3, 2010 3:07 PM   Subscribe

I'm a middle school teacher working with kids who struggle academically and emotionally, and I'm gonna make them memorize a poem over the course of 6 months. What are some ass-kicking choices? "Jabberwocky" excites me, but I could use more. Ideas?
posted by dzaz to Education (50 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Walrus and the Carpenter
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:07 PM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Cremation of Sam McGee
posted by elsietheeel at 3:09 PM on September 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Consider slam poetry? I love Dive by Andrea Gibson.
posted by kylej at 3:13 PM on September 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


The Owl and the Pussycat is fantastic in its randomness.

The Raven is also awesome but possibly too long and/or too creepy?
posted by SymphonyNumberNine at 3:14 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening"? Am I too depressing?

"Mother to Son" by Langston Hughes?

"The Destruction of Sennacherib"?

Sorry, perhaps I have odd taste in poetry for kids. Maybe stick with Lewis Carroll poems. Maybe "Life is but a Dream"
posted by GuyZero at 3:14 PM on September 3, 2010


Another Lewis Carroll suggestion: The Hunting of the Snark
posted by Sara Anne at 3:15 PM on September 3, 2010


If you do Jabberwocky, make sure you get the pronunciation right!

When I was in eighth grade, we did Paul Revere's Ride. I've also always been fond of The Lady of Shalott (but that might only go over well if you have a lot of girls in your class).
posted by Gator at 3:16 PM on September 3, 2010


When I was middle-school aged, I memorized a poem (but I can't locate it online!). The first few lines are thus:

Apollo through the heavens rode
in glinting gold attire
His car was bright with chrysolite
His horses snorted fire.

I loved this poem due to the great visualization.
posted by Sassyfras at 3:17 PM on September 3, 2010


maybe it's trite and/or inappropriate, but i remember that Kipling's "If" really struck me when i was in school .
posted by 3mendo at 3:17 PM on September 3, 2010


"One Inch Tall" by Shel Silverstein (or anything else by him, for that matter).
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 3:18 PM on September 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Oh, Kipling -- The Law of the Jungle!
posted by Gator at 3:20 PM on September 3, 2010


Also, there's probably a few of The Bard's sonnets that would work although they're short. I'm partial to #130 myself. It would work for high schoolers but maybe not middle schoolers.
posted by GuyZero at 3:20 PM on September 3, 2010


Poems with a story are great for this -

Robert Service is your man, if wild-west style violence is ok.
The Cremation of Sam McGee
The Shooting of Dan McGrew

Longfellow is great too
The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

Noyes (includes doomed love and suicide)
The Highwayman

Coleridge
Kubla Khan
Rime of the Ancient Mariner (probably too long)

Gray
Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:25 PM on September 3, 2010


There's also a lot of fun stuff in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, which formed the basis for the Cats musical.
posted by Gator at 3:29 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


How 'bout a poem or two that might be good for kids struggling?

Keep Ya Head Up or Me Against the World, by the late Tupac Shakur.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:31 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


We did a bunch of these in elementary school, and the ones that have stayed with me to this day are:

The Raven
The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere
The Cremation of Sam McGee
Casey at the Bat (which is the only one that hasn't been mentioned yet)
posted by natabat at 3:41 PM on September 3, 2010


Tennyson's Ulysses is another great one to have memorized.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:42 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Much as I would like to second Sara Anne (see my username), Snark is pretty long. Maybe the whole class could memorize it together. If you don't want to something modern and topical -- if you want a classic -- you might consider Ozymandias which I think is a near perfect example of its form in both message and language.
posted by The Bellman at 3:44 PM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ozymandias is another one, nice and short.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:46 PM on September 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


It may be too long, but by far the poem I've memorized that has meant the most to me is Ulysses by Tennyson. I love the message, and certain of the lines endlessly weave their way into my thoughts: "How dull it is to pause, to make an end, to rust unburnished, not to shine in use! As thought to breathe were life!".

One suggestion, if you like the poem, is to have the students memorize solely the last stanza, or even starting from "Push off...". It is incredibly uplifiting and is fun to perform in different ways.

Jabberwocky is a great choice too, though lacking much of a message. It's surprising how often I find myself thinking about vorpal swords snickering snacking.
posted by slide at 3:48 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Double, Double Toil and Trouble
posted by Seboshin at 3:51 PM on September 3, 2010


Robert Bly's poetry has an appropriate mix of cynicism and beauty.

For something really inspiring, Invictus. Especially if you look at how Mandela used it as a lifeline.
posted by kalimac at 3:58 PM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I actually think Jabberwocky would be really difficult to memorize. Poems are easier to memorize if they actually make sense.

My Eighth grade teacher assigned poems for extra credit based on length and difficulty. I still remember:

The Cremation of Sam McGee
Annabelle Lee
Nothing Gold Can Stay
and
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
posted by dchrssyr at 4:00 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Almost anything by Emily Dickinson, who is both unexpected and short.

Also, I love Wordsworth's "Daffodils." It's just a delight to read and recite.
posted by bearwife at 4:18 PM on September 3, 2010


Seconding both "Ulysses" and "If" - both of those really spoke to me when I was that age (and still do now).
posted by MShades at 4:23 PM on September 3, 2010


What's the objective in having them memorize the poem? Self-esteem, reading fluency, straight memorization, building a class identity, creating a context for discussions? Different poems would lend themselves better to different objectives.
posted by GnomeChompsky at 4:34 PM on September 3, 2010


The Highway Man
posted by Ideefixe at 4:36 PM on September 3, 2010


GnomeChompsky: "What's the objective in having them memorize the poem?"

For this specifically, it's for straight-out building of memory and increasing self-esteem. This would be a supplemental activity done in a Resource Room, not part of a poetry unit or anything like that.

I don't remember much academically from middle school, but I remember memorizing "If," and over 30 years later I still know it.

I want to do the same for these kids.
posted by dzaz at 4:40 PM on September 3, 2010


This might be a bit long to memorize but when my little cousin was a bit older than middle school age I got him to read a translation of Beowulf and he absolutely loved it, he talks about it even to this day.
posted by XMLicious at 4:46 PM on September 3, 2010


William Wordsworth -- My heart leaps up when I behold.

Short and sweet. Memorized it in high school and still remember it today.
posted by iamscott at 5:07 PM on September 3, 2010


The only poems I have managed to keep in my memory are those I chose to memorise, as opposed to those I was assigned. (Well, and one speech from Macbeth that I was assigned.) If it's feasible, could you allow the students to choose a poem (with your approval)?
posted by jeather at 5:08 PM on September 3, 2010


My wife taught The Highway Man, and at some point played -- to great effect --"The Highway Man" by Loreena McKennitt for her class. Could be a bonus hook, depending on your class.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2CFM4ev-g8
posted by cccorlew at 5:10 PM on September 3, 2010


Monet Refuses the Operation.

By Lisel Mueller


Doctor, you say that there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don't see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don't know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent.  The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and changes our bones, skin, clothes
to gases.  Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.
posted by auiricle at 5:13 PM on September 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


The Spoon River Anthology would be perfect for middle-schoolers!

It can even be performed as a play, if you're so inclined to do it so.
posted by zizzle at 5:32 PM on September 3, 2010


The Raven or Annabel Lee, too!
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:39 PM on September 3, 2010


I'd go with Shel Silverstein perhaps something from "Where the Sidewalk Ends" or "Falling up." Last time I taught mid-school summer theatre I had students pick out their favorites. They did everything from "Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout would not take the garbage out" to "About the Bloath."
posted by answergrape at 5:41 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


+ The Wasteland. It's long, but they could do it in sections.
+ Litany, by Billy Collins (show them this recitation by a three year old!)
+ Recuerdo, by Edna St Vincent Millay - short, but lovely.
+ Frank O'Hara's wonderful work. "Today" is short, but perfect.

TODAY

Oh! kangaroos, sequins, chocolate sodas!
You really are beautiful! Pearls,
harmonicas, jujubes, aspirins! all
the stuff they've always talked about

still makes a poem a surprise!
These things are with us every day
even on beachheads and biers. They
do have meaning. They're strong as rocks.
posted by judith at 6:09 PM on September 3, 2010


jeather: "The only poems I have managed to keep in my memory are those I chose to memorise, as opposed to those I was assigned. (Well, and one speech from Macbeth that I was assigned.) If it's feasible, could you allow the students to choose a poem (with your approval)?"

Excellent idea; I will.
posted by dzaz at 6:25 PM on September 3, 2010


Try I Had A Hippopotamus by Patrick Barrington. Your kids will understand the words, the poem will amuse them and make them think - and they will giggle over the compound words invented to achieve a rhyme or maintain the meter.
posted by Susurration at 6:48 PM on September 3, 2010


Stevie Smith: "Not Waving But Drowning"
e.e. cummings: "Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town" or "in Just-"
posted by Gilbert at 7:10 PM on September 3, 2010


I love William Topaz McGonagall - his torturing of the art can leave an audience in stitches - his poems are a lot of fun
posted by the noob at 8:05 PM on September 3, 2010


Two I enjoyed learning in high school

The preamble to the Constitution
The opening Prologue of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in Middle English

Each of my teachers read the work to us every day to open the class, and by the end of the quarter we had absorbed the words into our memory.

Also, each of the teachers talked about the context and meaning of the works--- on Chaucer, for example we learned about different English dialects competing for dominance in the culture, including the role of French in the court. I loved Middle English; once my ear got trained to the sound, one can make out the message with some work. Fortunately for me, one of my foundation professors at university was a Chaucer scholar, and I was all set.
posted by effluvia at 8:09 PM on September 3, 2010


Maybe it's better to start slow, with something short and memorable. How about this:
THE EAGLE (Tennyson)

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls. 
Also, speaking of the Hippopotamus, Ogden Nash:
The Hippopotamus

Behold the hippopotamus!
We laugh at how he looks to us,
And yet in moments dank and grim,
I wonder how we look to him.

Peace, peace, thou hippopotamus!
We really look all right to us,
As you no doubt delight the eye
Of other hippopotami.

posted by lex mercatoria at 8:38 PM on September 3, 2010


The Prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is a hoot, since it's in middle English!
posted by pickypicky at 8:47 PM on September 3, 2010


Tolkien's "Cat" poem is good - short, tightly rhymed, has some good fierce imagery and makes an interesting point about an animal the kids will be familiar with.

In any case, make it something with a good rhythm and rhyme. Free verse just doesn't stick in the same way.
posted by zadcat at 10:00 PM on September 3, 2010


Thanks for letting them choose their own! I was planning to come in here and say the exact same thing, and it's done.

In at least giving them some ideas to choose from, I second Shel Silverstein, and add Ogden Nash. You may also be interested in Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices if anyone wants to partner up with their best friend or whatever.
posted by whatzit at 11:02 PM on September 3, 2010


Apollo through the heavens rode
in glinting gold attire
His car was bright with chrysolite
His horses snorted fire.


By Morris Bishop, apparently. Full text.
posted by flug at 11:06 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thank you flug!!
posted by Sassyfras at 6:59 AM on September 4, 2010


If allow them an election, ensure they are aware of the amazingly alliterative "Nephelidia" by Algernon Charles Swinburne - it's meaningless, but fantastically fun. "From the depth of the dreamy decline of the dawn / through a notable nimbus of nebulous noonshine...."
posted by dilettanti at 9:49 AM on September 4, 2010


Tam o'Shanter by Robert Burns. Great for Halloween. It's in a Scottish dialect if the non-standard words from Jabberwocky are part of what you're looking for.
posted by XMLicious at 11:11 AM on September 4, 2010


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