An Influential Poem For High School Students

It can be difficult for many of us to feel relaxed when reading poetry — because it’s not for everyone! Some struggle to read between the lines or envision exactly what a writer is trying to tell us through the written word. But even though some may not enjoy the poems we share, we still have the obligation to share them. That’s especially true for young kids and high school students whose minds are still developing. 

These are some of the most influential poems that every student should read at least once. The poem “Snow” by David Berman perfectly encapsulates the strange spontaneity of childhood — and all the bizarre things we do and say to make it interesting. It reads:

Walking through a field with my little brother Seth

I pointed to a place where kids had made angels in the snow. 

For some reason, I told him that a troop of angels

Had been shot and dissolved when they hit the ground.

He asked who had shot them and I said a farmer.

Then we were on the roof of the lake. 

The ice looked like a photograph of water.

Why he asked. Why did he shoot them.

I didn’t know where I was going with this.

They were on his property, I said.

When it’s snowing, the outdoors seem like a room.

Today I traded hellos with my neighbor. 

Our voices hung close in the new acoustics. 

A room with the walls blasted to shreds and falling.

We returned to our shoveling, working side by side in silence.

But why were they on his property, he asked.

When we talk to kids about poetry, we always must ask several questions: “What does this mean to you?” “What do you see?” “How did it make you feel?” Part of this exercise isn’t just about poetry. Instead, it’s about learning more about the students themselves. Many will use poems to explain their own feelings and experiences to those who are willing to listen (and, ironically, read in between the lines of life).

Writing About One Of Life’s Biggest Obstacles: Poverty

To say that the world has thrown us a curveball in the last twelve months is a huge understatement — and whereas all of us hope for the best in 2021, the year has certainly gotten off to a rocky start. Many of us are still out of work thanks to job cutbacks and layoffs due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has led many more to rethink their financial situations. Perhaps not so surprisingly, the written word has become all the more valuable.

You might not think that a person would choose to write about their own experiences with a Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy — but they do. That’s the sad state of the world we live in. Here are a few poems that explore this unfortunate topic.

This poem is aptly called “Bankruptcy” and was written by Kelvin Rush, who takes a somewhat comical and almost optimistic approach to what life threw his way:

My assets were sold

I was stripped naked and bare

They found all the gold

It was a callous affair

My home has now gone

My reputation in tatters

At least I’m still alive

That’s all that matters

They took all my money

My possessions, my debts

They’ll be no more legal action

No phone calls, no threats

In a year from now

I become debt free

Thank you to my creditors

For my Bankruptcy!

“Bankruptcy Hearing” by Dana Bisignani takes on a completely different tone: she writes about how the stigma of bankruptcy and financial distress can be crushing, follow you around forever, and make you feel like a child unfit to survive in the real world.

They have us corralled

in the basement of the courthouse.

One desk and a row of folding chairs—

just like first grade, our desks facing Teacher

in neat little rows.

        Upstairs,

wooden benches like pews and red

carpet reserved for those who’ve held out

the longest. No creditors have come to claim us

today. We’re small-time.

This guy from the graveyard shift

stares at his steel-toed boots, nervous hands

in his lap. None of us look each other

in the eye. We steal quick looks—how did you

get here. . .  

chemo bills, a gambling addiction,

a summer spent unemployed and too many

cash advances to pay the rent.

We examine the pipes that hang

from the ceiling, the scratched tiles on the floor,

the red glow of the exit sign at the end of the hall

so like our other failed escapes:

light of the TV at night,

glass of cheap Merlot beside a lamp,

a stop light on the way out of town.

The Best Election-Based Poetry For 2020

The election is right around the corner. Suffice it to say, many Americans are feeling anxious about the outcome of the election. The majority, in fact, call it very important whether they belong to the left or right side of the aisle. Poetry is about discerning the truth from complicated images and topics, though, which is why we’re partial to Medium’s Election 2020 collection of poems called “Resistance.”

Emma Briggs’s “Anticipation” sums up how we all feel right now. It encompasses the darkness we all see in the future, but remains optimistic in its message:

‘Like waiting for a biopsy.’

Indeed,

and I’m not even directly affected.

This last week

is not easy:

a daily escalation

of tension.

‘What if?’

Try not to slip

down the terror spiral.

Try not to trip out

on how it’s so wrong.

Focus on those

small signs of light

in this dismal tunnel.

Keep breathing,

stop reading

the comments.

Everything ends,

remember;

finally life

will cycle on

and around

as usual.

Sherrye Richardson asks “How Broken Are We?” in another practical poem. How many of us can relate to the idea that we as Americans are living in a fractured, broken society struggling to recover from its differences — even as we’ve struggled for hundreds of years?

Misery master

Destroyer of dreams, killer

Of hope and teller of lies

Surrender

Recover

Give more, go hard

Lay down, stay down

Choices, decisions react

Going forward

Some days nothing matters

Others down and blue

Reach to find

The stolen soul

Not quite defeated

Rise up America

Gail Walter shared “We Shall Not Be Moved” in order to showcase how the past can tell the story of the present and future:

“Tomorrow the invasion begins in earnest, and it is an invasion with all the implied violence. It is the feeling of flat on the ground, face in the gravel, something heavy in the middle of the back so that the stomach has nowhere to go. It is a posture of death. It is a posture that cannot sustain life. Parts of the dying earth fill my mouth so that I cannot breathe and cannot speak.”
Read the rest here.

The Most Disturbing Poems You’ve Never Read

We’re not here to discuss Edgar Allen Poe or any other popular poet you know and love. The most disturbing topics for poetry are fact and not fiction. If you’re faint of heart, then please leave now. These are adult topics. If you have children, we urge you to discuss subjects like bullying, sexual abuse, and harassment — most of which are much more commonly experienced in junior high or high school with people they know rather than people they don’t. 

One such case of sexual abuse occurred in an Idaho school where three high school football players allegedly sexually assaulted a special needs individual who eventually sent a poem called the World is not used to people like me to Buzzfeed.

It reads:

The Worlds not used to people like me

They still have Hitler within their hearts they

Think that being different is a sign of

Weak and bullying can get them far

But what society doesn’t know is that a kicked

in hanger can bruise and penetrate the heart

It leaves you walking on a stub because

Of the burden put on you by the people

That you thought you once loved

The Worlds not use to people like me

Like Alex, it likes to pound you to

The ground and lock the door

For your opportunities and leave you

Helpless with a sound

Why lord why does this happen to us send

Us to earth to be sent to the back

Of the bus

The assaulted teen and his sexual abuse lawyer were responsible for sending the poem to be read by others who had experienced similar circumstances, and urge others to speak out when it happens to them.

You can find additional poems on similar topics like The Script, That Look, or Years Have Past at Into the Light. Anonymous author Abigail shared a poem called Gaps, which reads:

Gaps in the graphics,

Always knew they were there,

But stuff I saw made me

More reluctant to share

It was fresh, it was new,

Never been there before,

And the scary specifics

Made me feel like a whore

I know if I trust You

I’ll come out the other side,

With more freedom than ever,

Nothing to prove, lose, or hide.

Gaps in the graphics,

Want them to stay as they are

Then once and forever,

That ship can sail afar.

How would you interpret the poem? At first glance, it could have nothing to do with sexual assault. The narrator is, at its deepest meaning, discussing the subject of trust thematically. How long does it take to trust someone enough to feel “freedom” on the open waters of life? Ultimately, the poem seems to address the darker realities of some relationships that don’t work even when we might like them to. While Gaps is subtle in subject content, we can infer deeper meaning from the author’s other poems that can be viewed on the same site.

The Best New Coronavirus-Inspired Poems You’ve Never Heard Before

The coronavirus pandemic has led our world down a dark road — and the United States in particular has made innumerable mistakes in tackling this problem. Thankfully, this year’s National Poetry Month put everything into perspective. Writers shared their coronavirus-inspired poetry to shed light on the struggles of everyday people around the country. Some end with tears, while others end with giggles. 

My Corona was written by Sally Morgan:

The coronavirus looks like a dog toy

or a child’s Koosh ball

with its primary color

and fanciful shape.

How can something so whimsical

be so insidious?

It hasn’t infected me, mind you,

but it has changed me —

morphed into an

odd, complex chimera.

I’ve grown antennae that detect

a six foot field around me.

I’ve developed a fly’s eyes

to see danger on surfaces.

Like a squirrel, I bury food

in nooks and crannies

for a distant time.

I don a carapace

to venture out —

which I shed like a

snakeskin

on return to my door.

I am Lady Macbeth at the sink.

The future keeps receding.

Certainty has collapsed.

Sometimes I am like

the bear,

lumbering out of hibernation —

but mostly, I am like

the ground hog,

waiting

still waiting

to see her

Shadow.

Here are a couple stanzas from A Viral Composition written by Renata Starbird:

It all seems so simple, yet wonderfully cunning

that we should be haunted by creatures so stunning.

Not a prokaryote nor is it eukaryotic,

some close to home, others much more exotic.

As we go ’round the globe in our planes, trains, and cars,

as we chop down the trees to make room for our yards,

as we drill deep into earth and pave roads in the mountains,

viral dark matters inch closer by thousands.

These poems elicit our emotions about the new world in which we live through a novel lens — and we should all strive to take a second glance and reevaluate. Looking for more? A quick look online will feed your appetite.

Why Do Poets Write About Self-Inflicted Pain?

Pain in poetry is nothing new. Many people will tell you that the core characteristic inherent in all writers is injury, self-inflicted or not. Physical or emotional. Writers write because they want to explore those feelings that we generally do not discuss openly in society. It’s their way of providing hope for everyone else who feels lost or like people generally don’t understand their hopes, desires, emotions, etc. 

Why do they do this? Because life isn’t just about what happens out in the open. It’s about what happens behind closed doors — or, in the case of writers exploring personal injury through poetry, that which happens within the mind, a sack of fat and fluid that holds our deepest, darkest thoughts. That’s why so many people have a passion for poetry! It uses imagery and metaphor to tell a story that normal prose cannot. 

Interestingly, many professional poets have explored self-inflicted pain both personally and thematically. Fans of poetry or novice writers have done their best to explore this topic online, through non-official contests, like this one. PouncingXXkitten said, “I want to hear your best poems about self-inflicted pain.”

Dozens of entries were collected, not for a tangible prize or recognition, but instead for personal fulfillment. Titles were as dark as you’d expect: “Razor Blade Obsession,” “This is Humanity,” “Re-Chained,” “Gorgeous Eyes Shine Suicide,” and “Permanent Memories” were all ranked near the top.

Of course, the real turmoil was explored in the stanzas themselves.

This was Gorgeous Eyes Shine Suicide:

“Tears run down my face and arm

Carrying pain and carrying harm

Some are red and some are clear

Filled with sadness, filled with fear.

Flowers bloom upon my skin

Bold, bright and red; the colour of sin

The dark poppies on the white of flesh

How could anybody ever guess?

The only way to release my pain

But the freedom is always followed by shame

I never want anyone to see me like this

That why I hide the scars that cover my wrists

Because who could love a girl like me?

To my stone cold heart there is no key

No-one can know my secret of desire

The need, the thirst, that painful fire

One look at my scars and they’re filled with disgust,

No-one can know my true feeling of lust

I’m a cutter addicted to the high that it brings

I crave blood and pain more than anything

I know how it feels to be so shut out

You just want help, but no-one hears your shout.”

This isn’t just a piece about the fears of growing up in a judgmental society with few hopes and dreams to live for — it’s a piece that reminds all of us that we should treat everyone with love and respect because we never know what’s going on beneath the surface. Is this narrator living through a nightmare as bad as she believes? Maybe. But maybe not. 

If you are struggling with thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please seek professional help and support

Free Writing: The Life of A Basketball

Today’s writing is done by my good friend Nick. I gave him the prompt to write a poem about the life of something that is important to you. Not surprisingly, he decided to choose basketball.

From Nick:

Every day, I go to the park to play basketball with my friends and my brother, so the sport holds a truly special place in my heart. If you like basketball, I hope that my poem will inspire some feelings for you, maybe even some tears. I put my heart and soul into this poem, so I really hope that it turns out to be a SLAM DUNK!

Shooter, driver, dribbler,
Throw me against the board and make it quiver.

Call me the rock and give me away,
Go on defense, and get me back anyway.

I touch everyone that comes in contact with me,
Because of physics, I fall with gravity.

Throw me in the hoop and I will feel joy,
Doesn’t matter if you’re a man, girl, or boy.

I might just be a ball, but you know what they say:
If you love to ball, then ball is your whole day.

You might just think I’m an inanimate object,
But when ball is life, I’m your greatest project.

If that poem made you feel like playing some basketball, then you’re not alone. All I can think about now is going to the nearest park and shooting some hoops with the boys/girls. Please don’t forget that poetry is here for us to talk about what we love, and for nothing else. Don’t care about what others people say about your poetry: if you love it, that’s all that matters. I like to think of myself as an athlete just as much as I am a poet, so I thought I would give you a little insight as to what life would be like as a basketball. If you want some more basketball content, please watch this video:

Free Writing: Life After Death

This week’s creative writing prompt comes from Creative Writing Now. I had my friend select a number between 1 through 20 and he chose number 7, which states: Write a poem based on your belief about life after death… or about what you WISH you believed.

This prompt has me thinking a lot more than any of the other free writing prompts that I’ve done before. There’s a lot of directions that this could take. I think the natural response would be I wish that we could all be immortal, but think of the potential ramifications of that, we’d use up all the natural resources on earth fairly quickly. It also reminds me of the best book I’ve ever read called Elsewhere, when you die you go to heaven and age backward and then are reborn as a baby. How cool would it be if that happened? And then there’s this theory that my family has that my grandfather was reincarnated into a white butterfly. I know that sounds really strange but it’s true – there’s a white butterfly that follows me around on important occasions and sits on my grandfather’s gravestone. This theory totally led to my parents getting a divorce but I still think it’s true!

There are a lot of famous incarnation stories that can be seen here, mine is a little wacky too, but not as wacky as this:

Meanwhile, I should probably actually write something.

I see you.
I know it’s you.
I don’t care if people don’t believe it’s true.
Whether it’s my SATs or the day I moved.
You have been there – watching me, guiding me, loving me.
When I see you I know it will be OK.
That all is right in the world.
One day I will join you to help guide the rest of our family.
Being reborn for a greater purpose.

What do you think? Do you think I met the challenge?

Free Writing Prompt: Bad Dream

This week’s writing prompt comes from Creative Writing Now. This prompt states to write a poem based on a bad dream that you had. Try to reproduce the sensations of the dream. Little did you all know that I suffer from terrible nightmares. The subject matter from me to choose from is actually endless, so it’s not like I had to sit and rack my brain on what my last nightmare was.

One of my all-time top nightmares happened in 2010. I know this because I was working at a television production company and we were doing a show about nightmares, so I got to share this nightmare to the producers. I had a dream that my Cookie Monster stuffed animal came alive and murdered my entire family and then was coming to murder me. I distinctly remember the red blood on his fur and him knocking on my bedroom door as I lied under my covers terrified for my life. That’s really all I remember from the dream itself, but I remember feeling freaked out. It’s not every day that your beloved stuffed animal from childhood has a blood lust against you. In fact, I could never look at that doll the same way again.

But Cookie Monster cracks me up still:

Here’s my attempt to write a poem about the bad dream I had back in 2010:

Betrayal!
Deep and sudden betrayal.
My childhood ruined.
My childhood gone.
Confusion.
Muddled images of death and destruction.
Such betrayal.
Whatever you think I did – it’s simply not true.
I love you more than them.
I don’t even care that they are gone.
Why me?
I would never hurt you.
I love you.
Betrayal.
Deep and sudden betrayal.

Again, I am not the greatest poetry writer but based on the information above, I think the poem aligns itself with that and portrays the feelings that I was feeling. What do you think?

Poetry Writing Prompt: Love Letter

This week’s poetry writing prompt comes from Kelli Russell Agodon again. This prompt states:

Write a poem that is really a love letter to an old flame. To make sure it doesn’t slip into sappy, make sure one or more of these words are in the poem: dung beetle, politician, nuclear, exoskeleton, oceanography, pompadour, toilet. 

Can someone please explain to my why I keep doing this to myself? What has this website done to me? The problem currently is that I am madly in love with my fianceé, so to even think of a former flame, I laugh at what I once thought was love.

The word pompadour also makes me think of this terrible musical I was a part of in Junior High called Pompadour and Poodleskirts. I can’t find our version on YouTube but here’s one from another school. It’s terrible yet also absolutely amazing:

Anyway, here’s what I came up with for this poetry writing prompt.

You peeled the lawyers away,
You removed my exoskeleton.
Leaving me vulnerable,
And exposed.
I peeled your lawyer away,
I removed your exoskeleton.
Leaving your vulnerable
And exposed.
You ran.
I stayed.
I loved what I saw.
You hated what you saw…
So you claim.
But that is not the truth.
You were scared of the nuclear explosion,
Scared that you showed your soul to someone,
Scared that I would run…
But I stayed.
You’re such a dung beetle.
That’s the last time I will let you sting me.

Well, I was able to slip in 3 words into the poem (4 if you count exoskeleton twice). I think that’s an accurate depiction of my last relationship. We became incredibly closed and commitment sometimes scares people away. But without that experience, I wouldn’t be where I am today, and for that, I couldn’t be happier.