A page from the "Poetry through the Ages" exhibit...

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Level: High School
Time for Activity: 3-4 weeks. This versatile exercise can also be broken up into three parts, with one essay assignment given at two different parts of a quarter or semester.
Materials Needed:
  • Reference books and historical anthologies, to provide additional examples of forms. Try to find works by poets cited in "Poetry through the Ages" exhibit.
  • Colored paper for the Movement Comparison exercise (#5).


To choose two different poetic eras, and write dueling essays to see which era produced not only the greatest and most enduring poetry, but also the most enjoyable or exciting environment for writing poetry–or music.

Action Steps:

  1. Using the Poetic Communities essay in "Poetry through the Ages" as their guide, as your students to pick two of the featured communities or movements – or even a movement that was cited as a contributor to a greater community. Tell students to try choosing movements or communities that were centuries apart (e.g. Sicilian School and Beat Movement)
  2. Have them study two to three of the featured poets of each movement, reading examples in this exhibit but also referencing outside sources, such as historical anthologies.
  3. Now, write a pair of "dueling" 800-word essays. In each essay, answer the following questions:
    1. What made the movement or community so intriguing to you?
    2. What poems, styles or poets captured your attention the most?
    3. What would it have been like to walk a day in their shoes?
    4. How would you have contributed to the community or movement?
    5. What about this community or movement changed world poetry forever–and how would it have felt to participate in that change?
  4. Once students have completed these two essays, have them grab a single sheet of paper and create three categories: MOVEMENT A, MOVEMENT B, ME
  5. Under each category, tell your students to write the most captivating aspects they cite in their essays. Under the "Me" category, have them write about which of these aspects works best for them.
  6. Finally, have your students synthesize their two 800-word essays into a single, 1,000-word essay comparing and contrasting the dynamics of the two movements. This final part of the assignment will help students to identify their own cultural and aesthetic affiliations, honing their abilities as critics and artists.