Book Review: How to Eat a Poem

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Another month, another book that I am reviewing because I taught it to my ninth grade(ish) co-op students. I can’t remember how I found this poetry anthology last summer, but I am sure glad that I did. Rather than have to pull poems from the whole world of poetry or require the students to purchase a daunting book (like some of my faves: Immortal Poems of the English Language, Best Remembered Poems, and Sound and Sense) or one that was too expensive and too expansive (like a Norton anthology), I just held this little gem up in front of them and told them to get a copy. It’s a wonder how it worked for them—it’s small, the poems are generally short, and almost all the poems are really approachable (and even a couple of the classics are on the more-approachable end of the spectrum). When I said “poetry,” my class was daunted, shaking in their boots and bored already with the irrelevance. By the end of their first reading, they were coming around a bit. It is possible that they even enjoyed some of the poems. Certainly, they didn’t hate the unit.

So this book is a great one for middle schoolers or early highschoolers. Even adults who are intimidated by poetry. However (and maybe this is a positive for some applications), it does not have any “teachings.” None at all. No notes. No biographies. No introductions or information on poetry in general. I added all the teachings, the vocab, and the occasional YouTube video about an aspect of poetry. The individual poems can be looked up online and for most there is an abundance of info and even teaching helps. As for poetry in general, you’ll just have to look elsewhere if you are teaching or if you are curious. In a way, this adds to the approachableness of the book. Just, as a teacher, it would have been nice to have some as-approachable content, too.

This book is also great for reading. Filled with authors and poems that just about anyone will recognize covering the past couple centuries at a breakneck speed (though not chronological), it’s a pleasant read. Especially if you don’t have much (or any) poetry in your collection, this is a wonderful volume to have on the shelf, or, even better, by the guest bed/guest toilet. Obviously, it can be taken in small bits, but if you want a brief walk through the poem, this is a jubilant frolic. Sure, there are plenty of omissions, but this isn’t a Norton anthology and it’s not supposed to be. I’m sure my students appreciated that and so did their mothers’ pocketbooks.

Some of my favorite poems from the collection:

  • “Write, Do Write,” Marilyn Chin
  • “homage to my hips,” Lucille Clifton

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