Spotlight on Humorous Poetry

The following guest post, part of our “Teacher’s Corner” series, is by Rebecca Newland, a Fairfax County Public Schools Librarian and former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress.

Carnival scene at Rodeo Austin, the city's annual stock show and rodeo. Austin, Texas, 2014. By Carol M. Highsmith.

Carnival scene at Rodeo Austin, the city’s annual stock show and rodeo. Austin, Texas, 2014. By Carol M. Highsmith.

Last month I wrote in support of engaging students with literary analysis, which asks them to use critical thinking and close reading skills. These skills are integral to success. That said, students also benefit from opportunities to read poetry for its joys. In particular, I recommend introducing students to poems that are humorous and challenge their preconceptions about what a poem is or should be, and poems likely to provoke laughter or looks of “What did that poet do?!”

One poem I enjoy sharing with students for its clever use of invented words to convey meaning is Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky,” which I have written about previously.  Another poem of this type is “On a Flimmering Floom you Shall Ride,” by Carl Sandburg. Read Sandburg’s poem aloud to your class or access a recording of him reading it. Ask students to listen, then provide them with a copy of the poem for another reading. Ask students for their thoughts about Sandburg’s technique. Consider pairing this in a lesson with “Jabberwocky” to prompt a discussion about why a poet would create new words instead of using those already available.

While Carroll and Sandburg enjoy playing with invented language, poet E. E. Cummings is known for having fun with format. One example is his poem “[hist whist].” Consider again reading the poem aloud before showing students how the poem is formatted.  Students may be surprised to see poetry written in this way. Ask students: Why Cummings might have chosen to write poems in such free forms?

With younger students, consider the work of Shel Silverstein or Roald Dahl, asking them to think about and offer ideas about how each poet conveys humor.

Offer students the opportunity to write and share poems written with humor, invented language, or creative formats.

What works do you use to illustrate the humor and fun of poetry?

From Fiction to Film: “The Greatest Gift” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”

The following is a guest post by Elizabeth Brown, a reference librarian/digital reference specialist in the Library’s Researcher and Reference Services Division. A related exhibit, From The Greatest Gift to It’s a Wonderful Life, is currently on display through January 30 on the second floor of the Great Hall in the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building. […]

A Visit from St. Nicholas…and the Librarian of Congress

Yesterday, Library employees and visitors alike—including dozens of children who will soon have visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads—gathered in the Thomas Jefferson Building’s Great Hall to commemorate the winter holidays Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. After the LC Chorale opened the day’s celebrations with a festive series of songs, it was time for […]

“American Conversations” in Maine

The following guest post is by Guy Lamolinara, communications officer in the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress. This post accompanies online content just added to the “American Conversations” website for Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith’s visit to Maine from November 1-2, 2018.  Having had the privilege of traveling with the “American Conversations” […]

New “Poetry of America” Recordings: Muriel Rukeyser and Lisa Jarnot

Here’s a treat for your poetry-craving brain: We’ve just added two new audio recordings to our “Poetry of America” series. As of today, you can now tune in to hear Linda Gregerson discuss Muriel Rukeyser’s “Poem Out of Childhood,” and Elizabeth Willis as she explores Lisa Jarnot’s “The Bridge.” First launched in 2013 as a counterpart […]

Jorie Graham, 2018 Bobbitt Prize Winner

This Thursday, December 6, at the Library of Congress, Jorie Graham will receive the 2018 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry and read selections from her 2017 winning collection Fast. The event will take place at 6:30 p.m. in the Mumford Room on the sixth floor of the James Madison Memorial Building. Free tickets are still […]