This lesson plan comes to us from Danniel Schoonebeek, a Millay alum and Visiting Poet at Germantown High School for our Arts Ed programs. This lesson is the first of the three day unit Danniel did at the school. The second day incorporated using postcards as rooms for the poems the students made.
Noun: an arrangement of a certain number of lines, usually four or more,sometimes having a fixed length, meter, or rhyme scheme, forming adivision of a poem.
The word comes to us from 16th-century Italian, meaning room, station, stopping place.
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Begin by asking students to consider the room. We start with “stanza,” a word whose late 16th century Italian etymology defines the word as room. Ask students to take stock of their surroundings—the posters on the wall, the people sitting beside them, the acoustics, the way the light comes through the window. Can we think of this room, and every piece of stimuli that composes it, as a stanza in a poem? Can we push our thinking further: can we think of all the classrooms in the school, the gyms and bathrooms and cafeterias, can we think of the building itself as a poem composed of these rooms?
Begin with Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art,” a villanelle in tercets with a concluding quatrain. Ask students to consider the length of the lines and how it feels to be inside each room in the poem as they are reading it. Are some of these rooms more elegant or underlit than others, and what’s the paint like in these rooms? Are some of the rooms shabby or off-putting?
Like the litany of lost door keys, hours, cities, and loved ones in Bishop’s poem, ask students to try and isolate something, big or small, that they’d lost in their lives. Ask them to write a poem where they obsess for a few minutes over that void. If they are hitting a wall with that idea, ask them to consider a routine, something they do every day. A walk to school, the way they tie their shoes, a tiny prayer for someone they love. Our thinking here is about repetition. As the saying goes, you can never step into the same river twice, so what happens when Bishop repeats that troubling line, “the art of losing isn’t hard to master,” and what happens when we repeatedly enter a room, how does that room differ each time we enter it?