11. Poetry by Canadian Women
* * * * * * * * * * by Helen Winton * * * * * * * * * *
ORIGINALLY from Ontario, I travelled haphazardly around the globe until a twist of fate took me to the Yukon in 1976. For the past 12 years I have been an adult education instructor at Tr'odek Hatr'unothan Zho, Dawson Campus of Yukon College in Dawson City. I was inspired by the many wonderful books of poetry that I read while working on this chapter and I discovered that poetry can be a powerful learning tool.
I hope the activities in this chapter will stimulate interest in poetry and introduce students to some Canadian women poets who write in English. When I used the poems in this chapter with my students, they were interested in discussing them and wanted to go on to investigate and discuss some women's issues raised by the poems. There were seven women and three men in my group. I asked them to listen to the poems, and made the rest of the activities optional. I found everyone willing to take part, except for one man who didn't do any writing, but always sat close enough to the group to hear everything that was said.
You will want to select themes and poems to suit your class or group, both in content and at a reading level that is not too difficult. Poetry, like music, is meant to be heard, so make certain the selections are read aloud, by yourself, your students, guest readers or a combination of all three. I aim for an absolute minimum of two readings, and I'm happy if I can work in three or four oral readings in the first session.
Attempt to use a positive approach with negative or depressing topics. For example, discuss what can be done to help a victim of sexual abuse rather than simply recounting various stories of victims, although the recounting is an important first step.
The content of some
of the poems is disturbing. You may not feel comfortable using them all in a
mixed group, or in a group that you do not know well. These poems will almost
certainly raise strong emotions in students, especially those who have been
victims of abuse. You can expect some students to disclose their own abuse,
past or present, either to the group as a whole, or to you in private. You can
begin to prepare yourself for such disclosures by reading the introduction to
To do the activities in this chapter, you will need as many books of poetry as you can lay your hands on (see Resources at the end of the chapter for suggestions), pictures of the poets (if available) and biographical sketches.
In this chapter the poems are grouped according to their themes. However, there are many possible variations on this grouping. You could:
Other possible themes include sickness, death, dying, old age, relation- ships, fathers and marriage. I found many poems on these topics when I was doing my research. If you aim for diversity in the poets, you will find poems from different points of view, many of which your students will recognize and identify with.