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Travis Poling
Linda Valley & Kathy Flatter
Indiana Writing Project ISI
13 June 2015
The Place of Poetry in the Composition Classroom
I came to teaching college composition through my education in and practice of creative
writing. I identify with Jae Newman, adjunct community college composition instructor in
Rochester, New York, who says of his teaching, I am a poet and I cannot teach as someone who
studied composition theory. My supervisor understood this when I was hired, but she made sure
to tell me that I wasn't to teach creative writing in the academic writing classroom. She clarified
herself and said that fiction cannot be a major writing assignment, but left it open for exercises
and examples to come from fiction or poetry. At the same time, there was no example for me to
follow in using poetry in the composition classroom. My poetry lessons have often not taken
students thoughts as deeply as I had hoped. When I've taught poems, it's tended to be in
remedial classes to try to remove the stigma against reading and writing.
As a poet and teacher, I believe that poetry can teach students a number of important
lessons about writing in general, and academic writing specifically. What I hope to find is the
ways that the reading and writing of poetry has been used by others in the teaching of
composition principles. If it is used to introduce and reinforce topics and lessons, I believe that
engaging with poetry can reduce writer's block and inspire first thoughts for essay projects,
strengthen writing and vocabulary skills, and encourage deeper and more imaginative thinking
and interpretation of texts.

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Most of the students that come through my classes are uncomfortable with even the idea
of writing and researching at the college level. They may have been told by previous teachers
that they need to reign in their vivid imaginations and colloquial language to fit their words into
some ideal form of academic writing. I let my students know that I have different expectations
than traditional English teachers, and I attempt to honor their unique voice as, in Newmans
terms, raw poets. For many of my own students, language tends to be visceral and emotional.
Writing poetry would give them permission to express that rawness, especially if a safe
environment is provided, and the expectation is that the poetry will not be critiqued. The
possibility further exists for reading a poem along with a freewriting prompt connected to an
essay assignment. For Newman, reading a poem in this way can set the texture for what a
student might see as a realm of possibility.
I often will give a more personal assignment for the first essay of the term related to their
career or educational past to help develop a sense of purpose to their time at community college.
In most of their classes, students are asked to reiterate a shared base of knowledge related to their
field of study. At the same time, a balanced view of their education would include the
opportunity to express the experiences that shape their livesthe territory where composition
teachers don't generally go (Newman). Poetry can provide this opportunity.

Kari Willis is a middle school teacher who assigns poetry opinion papers to deepen her
students understanding of poems. While her purpose is to teach poetry as valuable in itself, her

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techniques are not unrelated to college composition. Willis writes of her poetry opinion papers,
These papers accomplish several things: (a) The students are reading and discussing poetry, (b)
they are writing, (c) they are forced to think about what the author was trying to say, and (d) they
have to use reasoning to write the paper (393). Each of these goals align with the following
Major Course Learning Objectives for the English Composition courses I reach at Ivy Tech
Community College, supplied here with their corresponding number in the syllabus list:
[a]: 12. Recognize and develop styles appropriate to varied writing situations.
[b]: 6. Apply strategies for the composition process such as drafting, collaboration,
revision, and peer evaluation to produce written documents.
[c]: 4. Develop strategies for making independent, critical evaluations of student and
published texts.
[d]: 2. Apply critical reading and thinking skills to the writing process. (Poling)
With some adaptation for adult learners, I believe Willis concepts could be successfully
implemented in my classes to teach various elements of academic reading and writing.

Day and Guiney Yallop

Liz Day, a nursing educator, and John Guiney Yallop, a poet and education professor,
collaborated to explore teaching nursing students empathy towards diverse populations. Their
article is published as an interview where they speak individually about their findings. Day
begins by saying she attended a workshop at an education conference where Guiney Yallop read
from his poetry and related it to his experiences as a gay man. Day made the connection from his
work that My nursing students can be told about the physiological response to painful stimuli,
but still not connect that to human suffering in ways that are empathic (Day and Guiney Yallop
47). She saw in Guiney Yallops work the potential to let my students imaginations engage in

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the pain they see in their patients, and [explore] whatthey feel (47). From this feeling, Day
believes that his poetry could create new knowledge for students (47). Guiney Yallop
confirmed in the article that one needs to engage with my work in order for the knowledge to
emerge, and that the knowledge is constructed with each reading/hearing of the poetry." (48)
Day used a poem by Guiney Yallop to spark discussion and writing about what her
university calls employability skills such as empathy, self-care, and professionalism.
Following a conversation around treating patients from diverse backgrounds and experiences,
Day hands out a poem and asks for group discussion around personal emotions, memories, and
prejudices that the poem brought up, and how these influence your relationships with others
(50). Group discussion is followed by personal reflection on your own beliefs or opinions
around issues of difference, [and how] to further your knowledge about diversity, culminated
by the writing of a personal statement using this evidence to enter into your [personal and
professional] development plan (50).

Future Implications
Day concludes that this activity was the beginning of creating new humanistic
knowledge for the students, as opposed to theoretical, procedural, or technological knowledge
(50). While there is a need to teach the theoretical, procedural, or technological knowledge, a
lack of the humanistic in the community college classroom will leave students with an
incomplete education. With these rationales and examples of using poetry to teach elements of
English composition, there is a greater possibility to bring more of who I am and what I love into
the classroom, and ultimately benefit the lives of my students.

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Works Cited
Day, Liz, and John J. Guiney Yallop. "Learning, Teaching, and Researching through Poetry."
Creative Approaches to Research 2.2 (2009): 46-57. Academic Search Premier. Web. 12
June 2015.
Newman, Jae. "Hectors Story: Why I Teach Poetry in College Composition." Ruminate
Magazine. 14 May 2015. Web. 10 June 2015.
Poling, Travis. English 111 Course Syllabus. January 2015. Ivy Tech Community College,
Richmond, IN. Microsoft Word file.
Willis, Kari L. "Poetry Opinion Papers: Combining Poetry and Writing with Middle School
Students." Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 40.5 (1997): 393. Academic Search
Premier. Web. 12 June 2015.