Poetry Exercises, edited by Jasmine V. Bailey
Teachers of poetry face some of the most difficult pedagogical hurdles in creative writing and literature studies for reasons that hardly need enumeration. The most common may be that many students have negative preconceptions about poetry that get between them and the pleasure central to appreciating art and learning to make it. There is another side to this coin, however: poetry classes tend to attract some of the most invested, creative, and serious students. They rarely occupy a majority, but they bring passion and enthusiasm that is often infectious. Our contributors to Vanguard’s poetry exercises were once these young poets. They got the bug perhaps alone, in the privacy of their minds, reading quietly for a class or by chance, and made their way to creative writing classrooms. We remember feeling, in a deep and true sense, that we were, for the first time in our lives, at home, and we know that some of our students are experiencing that new belonging in our classrooms.
The aspect of these poetry lessons I value the most is the contributors’ unanimous conviction that poetry doesn’t have to be sold to students. Many of these exercises start with a poem that exemplifies some answer to a problem that there is no end of ways to solve. The poem appears in this pedagogical framework as something irresistible—a fabled treasure or a towering peak that is no less enticing for having been sought, or even reached, before. Our teachers present their students with the possibility of what poetry can achieve, and they set them on their way to achieving their own version. These exercises acknowledge that each human experience requires its own writing, and our roles are not to teach students how to do what has been done, but to provide guidance and examples as they invent what only they can identify when they see it.