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

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Comparing ages and cultures through their verse

This exhibit provides the historical, cultural, and creative backgrounds of each poetry form, examples of each form’s famous and more obscure practitioners, and a tutorial on writing poems in each form. Taken together, this exhibit is a handy, interactive online tool for students.

The exhibit also provides cross-references to enable you to make comparisons between forms that came from one region (e.g. Provence and triolet, rondeau, and villanelle) and another (e.g. medieval Italy’s ballata, canzone, and sonnet), and then find any connecting strands. In this case, Provencal musician-poets traveled into northern Italy, among other places, and seeded what became the poetry segment of the Italian Renaissance. Establishing these types of connections makes the learning process more rewarding by bringing history, culture, and the written word together, while using 21st century technology to deliver the materials.

Overview of the exhibit.

Poetry through the Ages is structured as an informative reading experience and an ideal teaching tool. One of the most vital learning practices is to compare, analyze, and cross-pollinate two or more differing ideas; Poetry through the Ages presents an entire exhibit filled with those possibilities. To begin, the timelime provides an overview of hundreds of poetry forms, grouped by time period or geography. Then, each section is set up with:

  • An historical and cultural overview of the poets and era behind a form
  • Examples of the form through its developmental history
  • Make Your Own – A do-it-yourself tutorial for writing the form

Useful tool for teaching on multiple levels.

Poetry through the Ages is helpful for students in middle school, high school, and college, as well as adult learners.

College writing.

Poetry through the Ages is an invaluable tool to literature and English majors, as well as to those working on MFA theses. The exhibit fits into any syllabus relating to the teaching of creative writing, poetics, European poetic forms, and the relationships between times and regions throughout Europe’s literary development. The exhibit also assists with the early study of French literature (Provencal musician-poets), Ancient Greek and Roman cultures, and the advent of the Elizabethan Era in England. Students who are focusing their coursework on more modern forms will find plenty of material in the Visual and Experimental, Mass Media/Advertising, and SpicyNodes sections of the exhibit. Music majors and songwriters will see in the Lyric and Ballad sections a nice study on the usage of old and new poetic forms and influences in songwriting – a practice that has existed for more than 2,500 years. Exercises in publishing collections and forming communities of poets and readers are also presented.

High school writing.

Countless assignments can be culled from the pages of Poetry through the Ages. The exhibit enables you to introduce a form or era in your literature class, guide the student to the corresponding place in the exhibit, and ask him or her to learn more about a featured poet, form, or the cultural conditions in which the poet was working. In addition, the exhibit strongly encourages students to write in these forms, whether one poem or an entire collection. Each of the "Make Your Own" segments creates an assignment – writing in that form. You can ignite a sense of rediscovery with your students by reminding them that, in some cases (such as canzone and Anacreontic verse), they will be among the first students to write in these forms in centuries. The exhibit invites further research into specific forms, the relationships between the forms, and their impact on the development of literature. The SpicyNodes nodemap of poetic forms also introduces some 300 forms that your students might wish to further explore.

Middle school writing.

In Poetry through the Ages, middle school students will find many forms, rhyming patterns, and subjects that will appeal to both their natural sense of rhythm and their need to express emotions. Forms such as sonnet, canzone, rondeau, ballad, and lyric offer beautiful, challenging ways for students to safely explore their feelings while writing precise verse. In a recent experiment, a middle school teacher in western Kentucky took one of the forms presented in Poetry through the Ages and asked her students to learn the form, then write with it for a week in their journals. She reported that nearly all students delivered poems in that form, but many even tried to create their own forms. A few even broke open and wrote voluminous poetry and narratives about their lives, parents, and feelings! This exhibit provides you an opportunity to mix history, literature, and structure while inviting your students to write about the issues and feelings that concern or inspire them.

Adult writing courses.

Poetry through the Ages presents a multitude of opportunities for teachers of creative writing, literature, and poetry extension courses. It also provides a way to cross-teach poetry to writers in other genres that will appeal to their sense of adventure and self-growth. For instance, one way to prepare for writing a novel or major work of creative non-fiction is to read and write poetry for a month or two prior to the book-writing process. The metrical and word choice precision of poetry reminds the writer to choose words carefully and compose narrative in a manner that captures not only the reader’s eyes, but his or her ears – especially in character-driven works of fiction. Writing and reading poetry sharpens the ear. Furthermore, the challenges presented in learning and writing some of the forms featured in Poetry through the Ages gives adult writing students the opportunity to expand beyond what they consider their poetic bounds. The lesson plan on creating a chapbook will be of particular interest to six- or nine-week extension courses. Still others might find the cultural and historical relationships and events behind specific poetic forms to be helpful material for a character – or an historical work. Use the exercises on this exhibit in freewriting, narrative development, and the fine-tuning of dialogue, and you’ll find students sharpening their skills – and possibly becoming poets as well.

Ready to get started?

→ See a list of lesson plans.