Concrete poetry takes the shape of the topic. Also known as shape poems, these simple word arrangements make easy projects for kids. Surprising, this type of literature has been around for close to 2500 years.
Teaching Concrete Poetry
Our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed, sat at the side table with her student teacher. “Time to teach another type of poetry,” she said. “Today, we’ll plan for concrete poems.”
Mr. Grow looked a little puzzled, so Ms. Sneed explained more. “You know, shape poems. When kids write words, they create an image.”
A Shape Poem Example
The mentor teacher pulled a set of papers from her bag. “Here’s a simple example. For this shape poem, the words fill a heart.” She read the verse aloud:
May love appear on your doorstep every day to comfort your heart and soul.
“No rhythm or rhyme?” asked Mr. Grow.
“Not necessarily,” Ms. Sneed responded. “I mean, you could use those elements of poetry. However, in my opinion, using figurative language works best.”
“Ah, like the personification used here.”
Ms. Sneed nodded.
The History of Concrete Poetry
“You may be surprised to find out that concrete poetry isn’t just for kids,” Ms. Sneed continued. “As a matter of fact, it dates back to the third and second centuries BCE. During that time, Greek poets arranged letters in poems to enhance meaning.”
Easter Wings – 1633
She slid a paper across the table to Mr. Grow. “This poem, ‘Easter Wings,’ was written by George Herbert in 1633. In the publication, it spread across two pages in the shape of a bird or butterfly.”
The student teacher studied the poem. “In this classic concrete poetry, I see that the author did use rhythm and rhyme. Therefore, it’s more traditional. However, he broke up the verses to achieve the shape.”
“Right. Actually, this example provides a longer, more complex literary piece. This year, I’d like kids to see a variety of this genre.”
A Mouse’s Tail – 1865
Next, Ms. Sneed handed another paper to Mr. Grow. “This concrete poem was written by Lewis Carroll.”
At that, Mr. Grow’s eyes lit up. “The author Alice in Wonderland?”
Ms. Sneed chuckled. “The same. If you look at the shape, you’ll see the topic. The title is ‘A Mouse’s Tail.'”
Now it was Mr. Grow’s turn to chuckle. “T-A-L-E or T-A-I-L? An obvious play on words.”
“The latter. Actually, this piece was included in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which was published in 1865. As you can see, this poem illustrates the playful side.”
Options for Creating Concrete Poetry
“Ah,” said Mr. Grow, “I get it. Three different shape poems. And each has a different slant.”
“Yes. First, you’ll show the kids a simple example. Second, you will offer a bit of history. For that, you can show longer, more traditional poetry, as well as something playful.”
“What about writing? How should I guide them?”
Ms. Sneed furrowed her eyebrows. “Well, I normally don’t say this. But I think for this project, anything goes. If kids want to draw shapes and fill them with related words, okay. However, I’m okay with other options as well. Maybe it’s time to just let them create.”
The student teacher looked a little worried – but resigned.
“Sure,” Ms Sneed said, “I enjoy teaching in a room where I’m in total control. As a matter of fact, I love it. You know what a control freak I can be.” Again, she chuckled. “But sometimes, you just have to set kids free. Otherwise, their creativity is squelched.”