American Poetry
for Students of English Worldwide

..............Jack Kimball.............

A brief introduction for instructors who would like to give poetry a try.

Using poetry as an experiment in language learning:

The units comprising "American Poetry for Students of English Worldwide" are meant to encourage language teachers to give serious (and, yes, difficult) poetry a place at the English learners' banquet. I have chosen poems that I especially like and that I think many students at the high-intermediate and advanced levels will like as well.

The first units on Williams, Bishop and Ceravolo deal in relatively simple poems, rich in pictorial and natural imagery. And these first units also introduce basic literary terms such as "image" and "metaphor." Later units deal in denser poetry, but in each unit I have tried to orient the reader to meaningful and basic methods of reading, re-reading and interpreting the texts. (By the way, within the units I never use the word "interpreting.")

How the units are structured:

Bare-bones description: each unit features one or more poems supplemented by prompts for student analysis and writing.

Let me explain: the student first reads the poem or poems featured. After (or below) the featured poetry there are two or three "language-focused" exercises, stressing synonyms, antonyms and preliminary interpretation. These language exercises are followed by a set of "interpretive" questions. When students attempt to answer these questions they are initiating what I consider a vital cycle of re-reading and re-inventing the poems under study. (In both the Williams and Stevens units I have also included a few student verses written in response to featured poems.) The final exercise is the most generative in terms of student language production. Suggestions are offered to students to take notes on themes and images introduced in the featured poems. And, most important, students are then invited to create their own poems.

How reading & writing components are organized:

While I have deliberately downplayed the rhetorical features underpinning each unit, I should spell these out here.

Stevens and Bishop: introduction to "imagery"

Ceravolo: introduction to contradiction

Schuyler: cause and effect

O'Hara: creating hypotheses

Towle: generalization and refutation

Wieners: prediction

Stevens: points of view

Creeley: contrasting ideas

Moore: exposition and expansion

What can be done with these units?

Like Stevens, I'm of three minds about this. First, teachers and students alike can simply read these texts for pleasure (and other motives). This way, you can go as far into a given unit as you wish. Just read the poems, skip the rest. Or, read the poems and dip into a few "interpretive" questions, skip the rest.

Second, the units can be treated as tools for language-arts enhancement. For example, a teacher could read and then have students read the poetry featured at the beginning of the unit. The teacher then could decide to employ the poetry text as a point of departure for vocabulary building. This might mean that students would work on only the exercises dealing in identifying words with the SAME or OPPOSITE meanings, and the exercises that deal in TRUE and FALSE questions.

Third, teachers might want to take this as far as possible -- in terms of student production -- in-class discussion, writing, sharing of texts, and so forth. It is fair to say that, in this sense, the first few units will be easier to complete than the later ones. But I have included the later exercises for the idealized learning context -- which, I guess, brings me to a "fourth mind."

Fourth, imagine a class or tutorial situation where you, first, encourage learners (who are ready and willing) to read challenging but "important" contemporary American verse and, second, help them to compose intelligent responses to that verse. In this idealized situation, then, we might be talking about a "creative writing" scenario that would be appropriate for both native speaker and English-language student alike. Within this scenario, the distinction between the native-speaker and student begins to fade. To respond to the literature featured here, one is required to dip into one's own understanding of the world and, needless to say, each of us has his or her own qualifications for doing this.


You may want to supplement your students' and your own reading by reviewing various links offering additional information on many of these poets. Click HERE for a list of links.

In addition to this list, I have inserted relevant links at the end of each unit.

Some practical matters:

The original works in these units are copyrighted by the artists. With that caveat in mind, you are more than welcome to visit and download these units as you please.

I would be grateful to hear from you with your reactions. And if you happen to use any or parts of these units, I would especially like hearing from you. In particular, if students generate poems in response to any of these exercises, it would be great to read them! You can reach me by posting a message at my e-mail address listed below.

Thanks very much for taking the time to visit this site. Best wishes.

E-mail: jk at

Index of Poets