Poetry Unit


Because most poems are short and seem to break rules of conventional writing, beginning poets often assume that poems require less time and revision to reach their final form. Quite the opposite is true—most poets devote substantial time and energy to revision. It might even be accurate to say that poets are more meticulous than writers of any other genre, agonizing over every word, punctuation mark and blank space on the page. After all, the genre demands a concise, space-efficient precision with language.

Although beginning poets are often attached to their early drafts, they are typically persuaded to look more closely at their own texts once they have closely examined many published poems and have begun to see the kind of deliberate decision making that goes into a poem. Therefore, we often continue our “reading like a writer” conversations as we work on revision. A revision mini-lesson might, in fact, consist of reading a touchstone text closely with the class, pointing out a craft strategy the poet has used, allowing students to hypothesize why the strategy was used and then inviting students to return to their seats and find a poem of their own where the craft strategy can be applied thoughtfully.

As in many genres of writing, revision in poetry can often make a work-in-progress “messier” for a short time. The “cut up” mini-lesson below is one example of a strategy that can make a poem messy, perhaps even disrupt its logic, before the poet sees an “a-ha” that leads to a new and better version of the work. Here are before and after images of a poem used to demonstrate the “cut up” strategy.

Revisions 1 Revisions 2

As noted previously, we base many of our revision mini-lessons on the craft observations we make. You might wish to review the charts your class makes during the reading like a writer/craft stage and choose something you have not yet covered extensively as a focus for your revision mini-lesson(s). In this way, your students’ own knowledge and questions drive the teaching in writing workshop.

Teacher Try-It:

Choose a craft strategy from your own noticing chart or one from a mini-lesson in the “Craft” or “Revision” sections of this module. Apply it to one or more of your poems. You may want to try it and then set the poem aside for a few days. When you come back to the work, compare the early draft with the revised one. What do you like about the first? The new one? Can you imagine creating a third draft integrating the best of both versions?


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