Formal History of Poetry

Our Formal History of Poetry course is the equivalent of a one-half elective high school credit. This spring semester course will study the last eight chapters of Christine Perrin’s curriculum in The Art of Poetry, covering half of the 39 poems therein. The first eight chapters will be studied in our Introduction to the Art of Poetry fall semester course. The spring semester course complements the fall semester, taking a more in-depth look at the formal history of poetry. Throughout these final eight chapters, the poetic elements studied in the fall will be referenced and applied as they naturally present themselves in the new poems studied.

The spring semester class also will complete two chapters per month, supplemented by poet biographies, a glossary, and a detailed timeline in the back of the book. Poems truly capture the senses and are the perfect way to express and read about what is true, good, and beautiful in God’s world. This curriculum should dovetail nicely with rhetoric and writing units as well as literature classes as students learn how to interpret language and write both analytically and figuratively.

Perrin offers an insightful and layered approach to studying poetry. Students will delve deeper into poetry with a formal history that studies poetic form, movement, and genre. These forms include verse form, shaping form, and open verse. Students will look back at the many verse forms that have evolved within specific cultural contexts, including the villanelle, the sestina, the sonnet, the ballad, and blank verse.

Two of these chapters include fascinating case studies of the so-called grandparents of American poetry: Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. A case study in form will take an indepth look into Dickinson’s life and how her unique experiences shaped her writing. Another case study will explore open verse and the life of Whitman. Our historical exploration will culminate with an anthology of narrative poems, and what makes them unique.

Throughout the chapters, students will reference the poet biographies and timeline in the back of the book, weaving this additional historical background into each chapter’s lesson. This poetry timeline shows the different periods of poetry, including each period’s forms and genres, writers, literary value, and historical context. Students also will use the practical, hands-on activities shared throughout the textbook to supplement class studies and assist in developing and writing their own poetry. Students will interact with the textbook and each other in several ways to experience the full reach of poetry.

Throughout these activities, students will learn to interpret others’ poems and write their own poems through a natural progression of steps:
1. Read Aloud. Poetry needs to be read aloud so, as Perrin says, you can feel it in your mouth and hear it in your ears. We will begin every class by reading poems aloud, at least twice. The sound, rhythm, and tone of a poem become interlaced with its meaning. Students also will be asked to record themselves saying poems. When speaking and then listening to ourselves speak, we can pick up on subtle meanings that we may not have heard or understood otherwise.

2. Memorization. Memorizing poems helps students internalize and understand the work from the inside out, learning about and feeling the specific lines and joints of a poem. Reciting poems creates sounds and rhythm, internalizing the music of a poem. Students will learn how to memorize with the aid of hand motions, songs, images, sounds, lines, and sentences. Students will be asked to memorize at least one poem from every chapter.

3. Socratic Discussion. People often interpret poems differently. Classes will revolve around the good, hearty discussion that leads to greater understanding. Students will be encouraged to share their interpretations with support from the poem and the history surrounding it. There will be healthy debate as students agree and disagree. The class will review how concrete images can inspire abstract interpretation — along with how to know where comparisons should begin and end. We will explore how to know when an interpretation is unsupported and therefore taken too far.

4. Free-writing. During some classes, students will be invited to “free write” for a short period of time. Free-writing involves writing down whatever comes to mind without pausing to mull it over. This practice can inspire great inspiration and creativity. Topics might include writing about a favorite image or symbol, or writing thoughts inspired by one of the poems in the textbook.

5. Journal Work. Students will keep a writer’s journal of their own poems and favorite poems. They also will have a poetry notebook that will include ideas for poems and the poetic elements; studies of different poets, images, and time periods; and a timeline of the poems and poets studied.

6. Poetry Slam. At the end of each quarter (twice for the spring semester), students will be invited to share their favorite poems (both their own and/or another poet’s work) as a group.

7. Chapter and Vocabulary Quizzes. Quizzes will be given at the end of every chapter, along with one cumulative test at the end of the course. These quizzes will incorporate the vocabulary words listed in every chapter as well.

8. Hands-On Activities. Each chapter shares several in-class activities and homework assignments to help students work through and understand the poetic elements, along with the history surrounding the poems and their creators. Here are some activities:
• Look at a painting and make a poem to describe it by the sounds of words and their arrangement in lines.
• As a class, choose five pairs of rhymes and write poems with them.
• Play a word association game as a class to inspire your writing on a certain theme.
• Listen to a few songs and tap out the drumbeat. Now read several poems aloud and do the same thing. Note how it may have changed your understanding of the poems.
• Take one of your favorite poems in the textbook and set it to music.
• Take a poem and change where the lines begin and end. Talk about how this new arrangement might change the meaning of a poem.
• Talk about what in your life is ode-worthy, elegy-worthy, and pastoral-worthy. Then make lists of these findings and discuss why you’d want to memorialize them in poems.
• Contrast the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. Make two lists that describe their differences. Pretend you’re one of them and have a conversation together. What would you say to each other?
• Draw the poem I dwell in Possibility. According to Dickinson’s words, what would the house of poetry look like as a sketch?

Christin Perrin’s explications of the chapter poems lay a strong foundation that will guide classes and promote understanding while fostering students’ own creativity. Her invitations to delve deeper into poetry through historical perspectives, poet case studies, and hands-on activities will help students capture the beauty of this art form and hopefully draw from its well throughout their whole lives.



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The course text is The Art of Poetry, which is available from Classical Academic Press (www.ClassicalAcademicPress.com).

• Two writing notebooks: One will be a writing
journal and the other will be a poetry notebook.
• Highlighters and pencils: These will be used to
annotate poems and take class notes.
• Voice recorder: Any kind of recorder, such as a smart phone, will work to record and play
back student poem recitations.

Poet’s Choice, edited by Edward Hirsch
The Wadsworth Anthology of Poetry, edited by Jay Parini
The Norton Anthology of Poetry



Alison Grace Johansen is teaching the fall course Introduction to the Art of Poetry, the spring course Formal History of Poetry, and the yearlong class Well-Ordered Language Level 1. She earned her Juris Doctor from the Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle, Pa., where she was comments editor, and her Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of Richmond in Virginia. She worked as a journalist in Washington, D.C., for over 12 years before pursuing writing and editing in all forms of media: legal and academic publishers, startups and larger companies, magazines, newsletters, websites, books, and social media platforms.

Mrs. Johansen has always loved the written word and the sounds words make, which are the music of poetry. She has been writing poems, stories and songs for as long as she can remember! She also plays several instruments, enjoys singing, and loves using poems and songs as fun memorization tools. After all, poems — in their sound, rhyme, rhythm, tone and movement — are much like songs, which are a key part of the Well-Ordered Language Level 1 curriculum. She believes these forms of expression are beautiful ways students can learn about and praise God’s world. She hopes to inspire her students to discover the many ways they can use their own words to express themselves with truth, goodness and beauty.

She lives in northern Virginia with her husband and their two children. Her dedication to her faith and children influences every part of her life, from teaching Sunday school and writing a children’s picture book, to exploring the beauty of God’s world with her family. If they aren’t bird-watching while enjoying a walk outside, you might find them reading aloud together or playing their favorite instruments: the piano, flute, guitar, ukulele, and drums! Her love for both writing and music is one of the many reasons she is excited to share these courses – along with their poems and songs! – with her students. ajohansen.scholeacademy@gmail.com


Red checkmarkComputer: You will need a stable, reliable computer, running with a processor with a speed of 1 GHz or better on one of the following operating systems: Mac OS X with Mac OS 10.7 or later; Windows 8, 7, Vista (with SP1 or later), or XP (with SP3 or later). We do not recommend using an iPad or other tablet for joining classes. An inexpensive laptop or netbook would be much better solutions, as they enable you to plug an Ethernet cable directly into your computer. Please note that Chromebooks are allowed but not preferred, as they do not support certain features of the Zoom video conference software such as breakout sessions and annotation, which may be used by our teachers for class activities.

Red checkmarkHigh-Speed Internet Connection: You will also need access to high-speed Internet, preferably accessible via Ethernet cable right into your computer. Using Wi-Fi may work, but will not guarantee you the optimal use of your bandwidth. The faster your Internet, the better. We recommend using a connection with a download/upload speed of 5/1 Mbps or better. You can test your Internet connection here.

Red checkmarkWebcam: You may use an external webcam or one that is built in to the computer. Webcam Recommendations: Good (PC only) | Best (Mac and PC)

Red checkmarkHeadset: We recommend using a headset rather than a built-in microphone and speakers. Using a headset reduces the level of background noise heard by the entire class. Headset Recommendations: USB | 3.5mm

Red checkmarkZoom: We use a web conferencing software called Zoom for our classes, which enables students and teachers to gather from around the globe face to face in real time. Zoom is free to download and easy to use. unnamed-e1455142229376 To download Zoom:

  1. Visit zoom.us/download.
  2. Click to download the first option listed, Zoom Client for Meetings.
  3. Open and run the installer on your computer.
  4. In August, students will be provided with instructions and a link for joining their particular class.



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