While researching the genre of poetry for my "Genre Pieces Project" I came across so many forms that I had no idea existed in Tompkin's (2009) chapter on poetry. I found it extremely helpful the way that she broke up the different types of poems and then sub-categorized them into different examples and forms. Throughout the chapter, Tompkins continually insists that students have an unfortunate misconception about poetry -- most students have the antiquated idea that all poetry needs to rhyme in order to be considered poetry (pg. 171). This misconception turns most students off to this particular genre because they don't believe they have the capabilities to come up with a rhyme scheme on par with Shakespeare or any of the other typical poets that are usually studied in school. However, Tompkins believes "the poem's message is always more important than adhering to a formula" (pg. 165). Tompkins stresses the importance of "sharing a wide variety of poems written by children and adults...it's important to include poems that don't rhyme" (pg. 171). By exposing students to a wide variety of forms (some that are as simple as turning a list into a poem!), you can broaden their definition of poetry and hopefully erase all of those negative connotations. That is the first obstacle that teachers have to work to overcome, is the negative connotation that poetry elicits from students (especially at the secondary level). To overcome this, Tompkins believes it is necessary to first ensure that your students have a basic understanding of the genre and suggests starting with a formula poem because it generally "makes writing easier for students who don't think they can write poetry" (pg. 171). I agree with her suggestion here because, in my experience, breaking the poetry process up into smaller, structured pieces seems to ease students' fears a little bit. If I were to simply tell them to write a poem in free verse, they wouldn't know where to start or what to talk about. In my classroom, I would start by going through the formula of one type of structured poem and then model the formula and thinking process by constructing a poem together as a class. This would show students that poetry doesn't have to be hard or stressful; it is a creative and fun way that they can express themselves.
I think the "I Am..." poems and the Acrostic poems would be particularly useful at the secondary level to discuss and explore characters or themes during different units. I'm actually doing a unit on Harper Lee's book To Kill a Mockingbird and after reading this chapter, I'm thinking about having the students do an "I Am....Atticus Finch" poem to discuss his character traits and have students write from his perspective, which will also give them a lesson in point of view and how that can change between different characters.
One of the concerns that Tompkins acknowledges at the end of the chapter is how to assess poetry and I think this is one of the most important points of the chapter. Tompkins is adamant that students should not be tested or quizzed on their knowledge of particular formulas because "knowing, for example, that a haiku is a Japanese form composed of 17 syllables arranged in three lines doesn't make a child a poet" (pg. 176). Instead, assess students on a few basic criteria and try to avoid giving a grade for the quality of a child's poem because it may steer them away from ever experimenting with poetry again. I agree with Tompkins that portfolios or allowing the student to choose several poems from their writing folder to turn in for a grade would be the most effective and informative way to assess their skill and knowledge about the genre of poetry.