Friday, October 1, 2010

Poetry Moves I Love to Teach: Repetition

I try to share poems with my students that they'll enjoy. I don't always accomplish this, but I do a pretty good job, I think. I want them to discover the joy of poetry and the beauty of poems. And since I also want to help them become better writers of poems, I try to teach them to notice poetry "moves" in the poems that we read.

I stole the phrase "poetry moves" from a poet/teacher named Joe Tsujimoto. I had the pleasure of meeting Joe last summer at a poetry seminar. He said that he tells his students that "poets have more moves than Michael Jordan." A poetry move is essentially a common characteristic of good poems, a characteristic that makes a poem an enjoyable poem to read.

The list of moves is obviously long, but I do find that if I can expose students to them in their reading of poems that they will tend to try to incorporate the moves into their writing.

One move I introduce early in the school year is repetition. It's one of my favorites...I am drawn in by repeated elements and patterns in poems. Repetition is also a move that's easily imitated.

There are oh so many poems I could hold up as an example, but I think I'll choose one by Jane Kenyon:

Briefly It Enters, and Briefly Speaks

I am the blossom pressed in a book,
found again after two hundred years. . . .

I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper. . . . 

When the young girl who starves
sits down to a table
she will sit beside me. . . . 

I am food on the prisoner's plate. . . . 

I am water rushing to the wellhead, 
filling the pitcher until it spills. . . . 

Please read the rest of the poem here. 

I realize this poem has so much repetition in it that it ends up reading 
like a litany, but it's a pretty good example of what I'm talking 
about. I also like to get students to notice poems with more 
subtle repetition. Then I get to ask them, "Why do you think 
the poet repeats that?" THEN, once they're on the look out for
repetition and similar patterns, they'll be able to start noticing breaks in 
those patterns and we can talk about why the poet would break the pattern. It 
goes on and on.


  1. What a great poem to illustrate repetition! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Great lesson! I also like her poem, "Let Evening Come" for teaching repetition and how it can soothe/have a rocking effect.

  3. We were noticing repeating phrases in fairy tales last week ("not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin" and such) and the kids themselves made the connection to what they are learning in music about refrains. Cool beans, eh?

  4. Powerful poem. Introducing kids to Kenyon is always a good thing, and she has so many great examples of repetition in her poems.

    I especially love

    I am the musk rose opening

    That unattended gets me...

    And I am in love with the idea of calling poetic techniques "moves." Awesome.