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Lesson: Ars Poetica

Level: College, High School & Middle School

As your students prepare to write their first node poem, they need to understand the role and the potential of poetry. This makes the process of writing poetry more approachable, and leads to the more specific assignment of writing and creating a node poem. Having your students create a collaborative Ars Poetica poem prompts them to think about the role of poetry while writing a poem, and at the same time familiarizing students with the structure of a node poem and the process of developing new nodes.

An Ars Poetica poem is a poem about the process or idea of writing poetry; the term is literally translated from Latin to mean, “On the Art of Poetry.” This short activity asks groups of four students to theorize about the role of poetry in the world by creating a collaborative poem. Ultimately, each group leaves the assignment with one node poem that meditates on the poetry writing process. As a result, students are more comfortable confronting the task of independently writing their first node poem.

Depending on how familiar your students are with poetry, it may be necessary to discuss examples of Ars Poetica poems prior to beginning this assignment. Here is a short list of poems that you can easily find on the Internet or in poetry anthologies:

  • “Ars Poetica,” by Archibald MacLeish.
  • “Poem,” by Marianne Moore
  • “Ars Poetica,” by Claribel Alegria
  • “In my Craft of Sullen Art,” by Dylan Thomas
  • “To Gottfried Benn,” by Frank O'Hara

Creating a collaborative Ars Poetica node poem

Activity Time

Optional Ars Poetica Discussion: 20 minutes for each poem

Pre-writing: 15 minutes Group Work: 25 minutes

Logistics

This activity is designed to be completed in groups of four students, though it can easily be modified to work with groups of 3. Each group should have sufficient table or floor space to create their collective poem, as the students will be changing position every two to three minutes.

Required Materials

  1. 1 “What is Poetry?” worksheet for each student
  2. 37 note cards per group of four students. Each student should receive nine blank note cards, and each group should receive one blank note card.
  3. Four seedling cards for each group of four, with one of the following written on each card:

a. Like a piece of ice on a hot stove, the poem must ride on its own melting (Robert Frost).
b. A poem must resist the intelligence almost successfully (Wallace Stevens).
c. A poem is a verbal contraption (W.H. Auden).
d. A poem is an egg with a horse in it (a 4th Grader).

Pre-Writing Task List

To get your students thinking about the role of poetry, photocopy and distribute the following worksheet to each of your students and give them 15 minutes to think about and respond to each question. Answers to these questions may be more developed if preceded by a discussion of one Ars Poetica poem in the above list.



Name:

Worksheet: What is Poetry?

  1. A poem is stranded on a desert island. What three items does it need to survive? Why?
  2. You find an extra poem in your pocket. Who should you give it to? Why?
  3. Four wheels and an engine are the two most important parts of a car. What are the two most important parts of a poem?
  4. Johnny Cash claims, “Love is a burning ring of fire.” If this is true, then what would he call a love poem?
  5. How is poetry different from any other form of writing?

Writing Task List

  1. Arrange your students into groups of four, and have each group sit in a 10x10 foot circle.
  2. Distribute nine blank note cards and one seedling card to each member of the group. Each group member should receive a different seedling card.
  3. Tell your students to imagine that this seedling card is the first line of their own Ars Poetica poem, and that they should write the next line of this poem. Using the seedling card, along with the material they created in the prewriting section, students have four minutes to write the next line of this poem on a blank note card.
  4. Collect seedling cards from the students. These cards are only meant to give students a springboard for their own poems, and the card should not appear in the completed version of the Ars Poetica poem.
  5. Tell students to create the following shape with their 9 note cards (the card they just wrote on should be Card A):

Each student should have this shape in front of him or her. Each group should look like this:

  1. Tell students to stand up and move around their circle in a clockwise direction. Students should now be sitting in front of another group member’s stack of note cards. Tell students to read Card A. After doing so, tell students to write the next line of the poem on Card B1.
  1. Once again, tell students to move around their circle in a clockwise direction. Students should now be sitting in front of a yet another group member’s stack of note cards. Tell students to read Card A, and then tell them to write the next line of this poem on Card B2.

At this point in the exercise, students should be two positions away from their original stack of cards and both cards A and B1 should be hidden from view.

  1. Once again, tell students to move around their circle in a clockwise direction. Students should now be sitting in front of a third group member’s stack of note cards. Tell students to read Cards A and B2 and then to write the next line of the poem on Card C4. After writing a line on Card C4, tell them to flip over Card C4.

Tell students to repeat Step 8 two more times, writing and flipping Cards C5 and C6. At this point in the exercise, students should have rotated five times, and the set of cards on the right side of the stack should be flipped over.

  1. Now, tell the students to rotate around the circle in a clockwise direction. Instruct them to read Cards A and B1 and then write the next line of the poem on Card C3. Once students write the line of Card C3, have them flip C3 so that no one can view this card.
  1. Repeat Step 9 for Cards C2 and C1.
  1. Once the students are finished, distribute one note card to each group. Tell students to write “Ars Poetica” along with their names on the center of the card. This card should be placed at the center of the circle. The result should look like this:

Now that each group has written a line for every card in their circle, the poem is ready to be placed into the interface. The center note card titled “Ars Poetica” should be the primary node, and the 4 versions of Card A should be included in the second set of notes with the subsequent sets following. Click here LINK TO SKELETON VERSION OF THE NODE POEM to see what an outline of the poem should look like after being placed into the interface. If you have access to a computer lab, it is useful for each student to have the opportunity to enter one section of the poem into the interface. This is great practice for the time when students independently write node poems. The resulting poem displays a group’s approach to considering and defining poetry, and the process of writing this poem begins to familiarize students with the mode of thinking necessary to approach a node poem.

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