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Thursday, 24 April 2014

Sonnets (a.k.a. "Do I really have to write a love poem?")

My Grade 9's are in the midst of a poetry unit in English.  We've looked at many forms of poetry, and last week, we were studying sonnets.  

I collected samples from Shakespeare, of course, and his contemporaries, as well as selections from some more recent poets.  We looked at parodies of traditional sonnets (Check out Tony Baldwin's Sonnet 18 Parody - "Shall I compare thee to a bale of hay."  It's wonderful!).  My students read and analyzed these poems, and then it was time for them to write their own.

We had discussed the traditional rhyme scheme and meter of an English sonnet, and I asked my students to follow the rhyme scheme, stay as close to iambic pentameter as they could, include at least one simile, and include one other poetic device (from metaphor, personification, and hyperbole).  Although my more keen students jumped at this assignment, it was like pulling teeth to get some of my more reluctant poets to try.

They were struggling on content and language.  They wanted to mimic the language of Shakespeare and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and thought they could never come up with something like the sonnets we had been reading.  I told my kids that, although sonnets were traditionally about love, they could write on any topic they wanted.  A few students wanted to test the boundaries, of course (I got a sonnet about Netflix!), but once I suggested they write about something they love, I was amazed at what they came up with.

These (mostly) boys, wrote beautiful sonnets about basketball, hockey, and baseball, similes included!  

I wanted to share a couple samples with you, because I was just so proud of their hard work!

These were written by 15-year-old boys who had no interest in poetry or writing, who said "I'll never be able to write a sonnet."  When they got their sonnets handed back, they were so proud of themselves, and I was proud of them, too!

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