Poetry and Science _Day 1 @ High School

This lesson (Day 1)  is designed for a double period.  It will be followed by Day 2.  Day 3 would be devoted to presentations of poetry based on any aspect of science.  Times for each part of the class are suggestions only.

Icebeaker [5-10 minutes]

I’m sure you’ve all heard this poem when you were younger:
What a wonderful bird the frog are
When he sit he stand (almost)
When he walk he fly (almost)
When he talk he cry (almost)
He ain’t got no sense, hardly
He ain’t got no tail, neither, hardly
He sit on what he ain’t got hardly

Ask Students: What is appealing about this poem? 
relates frog to bird
relates croak to cry

Part 1: Whole Class Look at one “Real” Science Poem [20 minutes]
(Two different students should read it, so there is time to absorb it)

How the Frogs Survived, the Last Time the World Ended
by Geoffrey A. Landis  published online in Pedestal Magazine

Geoffrey Alan Landis (1955 –), is a scientist, working for (NASA) on planetary exploration, interstellar propulsion, solar power and photovoltaics.

Open-ended Discussion #1 (but try to direct it to some of the points below)

what “facts” of science are in this poem?
what “facts” of any other subject are in this poem (if any)?
Why did the stanzas break each time?  Change of topic?  Topics are, e.g.
1 = intro
2 = story
3 = dinosaur history
4 = Now
Line breaks–why?  Suggestions?
emphasis (maybe, wait)
moves (slow, fast) the narrative
Repetitions –why?  Suggestions?
like the first poem for emphasis
Rhyme –why?  Suggestions?
skin/ amphibian
“a” sounds, wait, estivate, ages, waves
Length of words – does this have any effect on the speed of reading the poem?
meaning of entire poem?
acid rain
big and strong vs small

Part 2:   Group Readings and Analysis of Four Different Poems [20 minutes]
Students in a group will examine one of the following poems.   The goal is not to worry about technical “poetry” terms – just use common sense and everyday words as students analyze.  But they should be ready to talk to the class about ideas as to…
a) how the poet used stanza breaks  – how the breaks fit the narrative
for example, look at
topic change,
pauses for emphasis,
time/space for reflection,
too big a topic for run-on
b)  repetitions and/or rhymes (including ends of words) and why
for example look at
short vs long words,
internal rhyming,
c)  where does the author come in?  If at all.
for example, was the author in the Landis (frogs) poem?

1. Ants by Ravi Shankar (1920 – ).  Ravi Shankar is primarily known as a musician (he plays the sitar)
2. Topographies by Nicole Cooley.   According to Wikipedia, Nicole Cooley grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana. She got her Ph.D. from Emory University. She is currently a professor at Queens College, City University of New York.
Haiti Earthquake by Lavinia Kumar.  This poem was also published by Flaneur
4. The Poem That Took The Place Of A Mountain by Wallace Stevens. Wallace Stevens (1879 – 1955) spent most of his life working as an executive for an insurance company.

Part 2 Continued: Whole Class Report Back [4 x 10 = 40 mins]
Each group reads the poem to the class, then gives a summary of findings.

Assignment for Next Time

Pick any science topic and brainstorm first, then write a poem.  Next week they’ll work in groups where they will critique poems of the group.

Remind students they can

  • write from big (earthquake, hurricane) to singular (a man, the narrator)  or from small (ants) to big (history/ecology) or just mix it all up
  • write “sub-story” in the science – such as loneliness, hopes, love, loss ­– anything!
  • write the entire science poem as a metaphor for something else entirely, or have the something else demonstrate (be a metaphor for) the science

Here’s one way to get started if they are stuck:

  • Make a list of related words (perhaps six)
  • Next to those words write a word or words off-topic (make a jump to left-of-center!)
  • Invent a phrase around those words
  • Think about stanzas for your poem (topics, how many?)

TEACHER EXAMPLE (and use the Creative Writing Ideas by Marie Kane)

Science Topic:  Carbohydrates

Word Off-topic word Phrases that come to mind
carbon diamond or coal in the blackness of a mine I can’t see anyone.  Rocks are hard, sharp
water cold ice electrons where is the water coming from, going to?  Black current slips down the wall.
covalent bond hard, hands together this is an unbreakable friendship.  Daisy chain.  Daisies in the dark.
calories too many, burn Burn, yellow/white to brown to black to nothing.  Caramel.  Molasses.
sugars sweet, soda, large cups is that where it’s hidden?  Where do they go?
starch fussy, shirts it’s the very stiffness that keeps us going.Collar.  Metal.  Chain.


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