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Advice to Make Teaching Poetry More Engaging

by Team PoetrySoup

Writing is one of those things that are uniquely human. We use it to pass on knowledge, communicate, and share our thoughts and feelings. In addition, we realize that nobody lives forever. Yet, through writing, you can read the most intimate thoughts of people who have been dead for thousands of years.

The purpose of writing goes beyond the strictly practical. It can also be food for the soul. Some of humanity’s greatest works of art are represented by novels and poetry. Even the best research proposal writer can be an absolute novice when it comes to artistic writing.

You can’t just order a soul-moving work of art via  Artists are both born and made. You have to be born with that specific X-factor that causes you to understand the world and the human heart.

In addition, artistic writing has a technical aspect that must be learned just like any other craft.

If you are trying to teach or learn poetry, this article is for you. You do not need any “tricks and tips” per se. If you do it right, learning poetry is intrinsically engaging without any other added methods. Here are a few tips on how to make this process more engaging and interesting:

Read, read, read

If a student wants to become a mechanic or a carpenter, he must first find someone older in the field. A “master” if you will.

Despite all of our advanced technology and online courses, the “monkey see, monkey do” method remains undefeated. You have to get familiarized with the great works of history, before attempting to write your poetry.

Shakespeare, Dante, Ovid, and Kipling can almost be considered mandatory reading. Of course, this also depends on your ethnic background. If English is not your first language, then you are in luck.

Not only can you read the greatest masters of the anglophone tradition, but you can also read your own. Every country has legends that are unknown to the rest of the world. They are unknown not because they lack the beauty of English works, but a certain something can be lost during translation.

When it comes to literature, in general, those who speak English as a second language get more bang for their buck.

Aside from inspiration, you will get to expand your vocabulary. Very few people can become good writers without using a vast array of words.

Aspiring poets will also pick up the masterful use of metaphors, analogies, fables, and parables.

Expanding your mindset

A very special quote should follow both students and teachers throughout their careers: “ The only interesting thing to write about is the human heart in conflict with itself”.

Since the Enlightenment, intellectual circles have become much more methodical, rational, and analytical.

But there is a price for unweaving the rainbow; life tends to lose its wonder and beauty. Society trains us to maximize the search for the cold, hard truth. Everything is about efficiency, politics, and precision, but the soul doesn’t fit inside an Excel spreadsheet.

This is why modern poetry doesn’t hold a candle to its pre-Enlightenment incarnation. The mentality is off.

While we are worried about GDP, our ancestors aimed towards more abstract notions. They had a sense of tragedy, wonder, duty, honor,  and beauty.

In essence, there is nothing new under the Sun. People in ancient Babylon, Rome or Medieval England has the same basic fears, ambitions, and worries. As a poetry teacher or student, it is your job to find your soul, before you can speak to the souls of others.

Of course, you can’t be trapped in the past. The poetry has to be relevant, at least to some extent and it must be adapted to current life. Adapt the “Universal” to the “right now”.

Use life as inspiration

Some people just sit down at the table and try to put as many pretty words on their page. Those people are called bad poets. Beauty without context is nothing more but shallow. We recognize that people who are just pretty and nothing else, are not worth our time. Why should it be any different when it comes to art?

While modern life seems to be more soulless than what came before, there are still things capable of inspiring great art. You just have to look harder.

Regardless of your approach, you should have an inspiration, a common calling. Maybe one of your students is an immigrant torn between an undying love for the mother country and his need to immigrate in order to feed his family.

Or, a student may be an avid nature lover, and you could guide an exploration of the primary pleasure of being around living things.

And, of course, love and heartbreak will be popular motifs until the stars go out. Because for as long as there will be humans, we will seek someone who will share our existence.

Make sure that any effort is guided by purpose. If your goal is to “just pay the bills by teaching poetry”, or “ to just become a poet”, then you have already failed. There has to be a story to tell.

Do not rule out other artforms

As a poet, you are probably a “word guy”. But that is not the only type of artist. Much poetic inspiration has been used in other art forms such as music and painting. Songwriting is very admirable.

Songwriters don’t have as much space as you do, so they have to stir the soul with fewer words. By looking at their craft, you will learn a special type of economy of expression. Your poetry will be more dense and tightly packed with value.


In all of nature, we have the privilege of being the creatures who have voices. In a small way, when you describe life, you are describing all life at all times.

As mentioned before, there is no trick to making the teaching process more engaging. If you are doing it right, it is intrinsically captivating and life-affirming.