Reading & Literacy

PBS Stations To Bring Poetry Festival To the Classroom

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — November 03, 1999 2 min read

Kurtis Lamkin’s rhythmic voice and African harp breathe life into the poetry of a summer day, the neighborhood folks, and the girls jumping double Dutch up the block:

Pinsky and Moyers
U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, left, is one of several poets Bill Moyers interviews for the program “Fooling With Words,” which airs on PBS stations this month. Teachers will be able to use the program and an accompanying guide in their schools.
--Lynn Saville

“she starts bobbin her head, jackin her arms
trying to catch the rhythm of the ropes
and when she jumps inside those turning loops
the girls crowd her sing their song.”

The poem, “jump mama,” was a favorite among the crowd at the 1998 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in Stanhope, N.J., last fall. David Partridge is certain the poem will also be a winner with his students at Wilson High School in West Lawn, Pa.

“Sometimes when you hear poets reading their work, it is dramatic and ... students are very receptive to it,’' Mr. Partridge said.

The television journalist Bill Moyers has assembled highlights from the festival, often referred to as the “Woodstock of Poetry,” to help inspire students’ interest and insight into contemporary verse.

For More Information

More information on “Fooling With Words’’ is available online at www.pbs.org/foolingwithwords.

“Fooling With Words,’' a weekly program airing on public-television stations throughout this month, is chock-full of poetry on childhood and family life, politics and history, faith and skepticism--topics intended to capture students’ attention.

“We wanted [students] to see how vital, compelling, and enjoyable poetry can be,” Mr. Moyers said in a statement.

Welcome Diversion

“If you start students out with contemporary poets talking in the language kids are used to ... [poetry] becomes so accessible to them,’' said Judy Michaels, the author of Risking Intensity: Reading and Writing Poetry With High School Students.

Ms. Michaels, who teaches English at Princeton Day School, a private school in New Jersey, had a hand in writing the teacher’s guide for the PBS series. The guide, along with an Internet site, provides further analyses of the poems, biographies of more than a dozen poets, and suggestions for using excerpts from the program in the classroom. Teachers are permitted to tape-record the segments for one year after broadcast. The taped segments include Mr. Moyers’ interviews with the poets, which reveal their earliest memories of writing and the passions that drive them.

While classic literature and poetry will continue to dominate the curriculum, Mr. Partridge said, he intends to use excerpts from “Fooling With Words’’ as a diversion from the hefty tomes his students are required to read this fall.

A version of this article appeared in the November 03, 1999 edition of Education Week as PBS Stations To Bring Poetry Festival To the Classroom

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