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Contemporary Ohio Poets Extension Activities:
The Poetry of Leaving

Overview
This activity contains additional poems by contemporary Ohio poets to supplement the lesson that begins on page 129 of the Ohio Reading Road Trip Instructor's Guide. This activity, "The Poetry of Leaving," explores poetry that deals with the experience of leaving one's hometown.

The two poems selected for this section share two specific characteristics: They both deal with changes in the lives of Ohioans and their writers' choice in words, phrases, and images that create emotional impact. In this section, students will learn that poets choose every word for its precision of meaning, which reveals the emotion that the poet wants to convey. The first poem here will be treated in more specific terms than the second, with the understanding that students can apply what they have learned through one poem to their understanding of the other.

Getting Started

Lesson Objectives
After completing this activity, students will be able to:

  • Write a poem in the style of one of the poems studied

Grade Level Indicators
In meeting the lesson objectives, students will:

H. Use available technology to compose text

Time Required
This activity will require approximately one 45-minute class period to complete.

  • "Leaving Downtown Marietta, Ohio, 1983" - 25 minutes
  • "The Family Farm" - 20 minutes

Resources Needed
Book containing the poems: I Have My Own Song For It: Modern Ohio Poets, published by University of Akron Press

Activity

"Leaving Downtown Marietta, Ohio, 1983" by Christina Delea

Ask students to think about a memorable sunset they've seen. Then ask them to write about that sunset in three ways:

  • using a simile
  • using a metaphor
  • using a description
Encourage them to use three different ideas, rather than "the sunset looks like a yellow ball," "the sunset is a yellow ball," and "the sunset makes the sun round and yellow," etc.

After students have learned all of the vocabulary words, read "Leaving Downtown Marietta, Ohio, 1983" to them. Then allow time for the students to read it themselves. Remind them to listen to their own voices as they read silently. Finally, ask one student to read the poem aloud.

Now lead the class in an in-depth discussion of the poem.

  • In the first stanza, "they" is the subject of each line, but students will need to make inferences to identify the group or groups being described. Re-read the first seven lines of the poem, pausing slightly between the first and second stanzas. Ask students to draw conclusions about who "they" are. What words provide clues?

    Since every word in a poem is chosen for a specific reason, Delea must have a reason for not giving them names or more specific groups like "farmers" or "motel desk clerks." Why do you think she did not do this? (Possible answer: She wants us to imagine groups of people who are pretty much alike, even though they have different jobs, traveling to downtown Marietta after work.)

  • Tell students to look at their similes, metaphors, and descriptions of a sunset. Then ask them to consider Delea's: "the sun / makes a gold river from a red sky." Ask them to try to visualize the metaphor of a "gold river" and the sky described as "red."

  • "The stench of a hard-worked day" may be understood literally, especially since many of the occupations mentioned in the first stanza require physically rigorous labor. However, the word "stench" seems to imply a specific attitude toward the work and its effect on the workers. Ask students what other details in the poem show the speaker's attitude toward the workers.

  • By the middle of the second stanza, "they" is no longer used. Now, the speaker says "we" instead. Why do you think that is? (Possible answer: the speaker is now among the other people who have traveled to downtown Marietta after work.) What does "the world cut off by willow trees and bridges" mean to you? Does it imply something positive or negative? Explain your answer.

  • Ask students to consider the lines "History / so bold it shimmered in the rain and on the backs / of cockroaches." Of course, "history" can mean one's personal experiences, but Marietta has its own rich history. Assign students to small groups and ask them to use library books or other sources to find information about Marietta's connection with the following topics. You may want to assign one topic to each group to save time. Ask each group to present its findings.
    • The Northwest Territory
    • Mount Rushmore
    • Steamboats
    • The Underground Railroad


  • Near the end of the poem, the speaker compares the future to falling leaves. Read the last six lines aloud to the class. Ask them what they think of this metaphor. Is it something that sounds positive? If the future is thought of as "falling leaves," what might this imply? (Possible answers: the future isn't under the people's control; what comes next is winter, which is thought of as a difficult season; the people don't seem to notice that the future is falling at their feet.)

    "The future" then travels to other places. Ask students to talk about the word choices of "circled," "ran out," "Mail Pouch barns," "stampeded back," and anything else that strikes them about the final lines of the poem.

  • Ask students to demonstrate wringing their hands. They may have seen people do this when they are nervous or worried about something. Perhaps they have seen a character on television wringing his or her hands and pacing around the room. Why do you think the poem ends with this image?

  • How do we know the speaker's "leaving" is different from the "leaving" that takes place in the first six lines of the poem? (Possible answer: the final line of the poem says "I finally followed it out," which suggests something that is not temporary like the people leaving work at the end of the day.) Do you think the speaker is happy to be leaving? Why or why not?

Vocabulary

barge: n., a large, flat-bottomed boat that is used to transport freight or passengers

euchre: n., a card game that is played by two, three or four people

litter: v., to scatter objects or rubbish in a disorderly manner

silo: n., a structure that is typically cylindrical and used to store grain

stench: n., an offensive smell or odor; stink

"The Family Farm" by Ron McFarland

Poems can be read for the information they contain. We can read "The Family Farm" to learn more about a family's decision to sell its farm and about this particular speaker's feelings toward the event and what happened afterward.

When students have learned all vocabulary words, tell them that the poem you are about to read conveys emotions through the poet's choice of words and images. Ask them to keep track of how they think the speaker feels as they listen to the poem. Then allow time for them to read the poem silently and for a student to read it aloud.

Use the following list to help students talk more specifically about the emotions conveyed in the poem. Remind them that every word in a poem is a deliberate choice and that many other words could have been used instead of those that were selected. For example, "two generations out of mind" could have been written "fifty years ago." Another example is the porch that "grins like a possum." Why "grin"? Why a possum and not, say, a dog or a small child?

As you present these examples from the poem, ask students to talk about how the speaker seems to feel and how they, as readers, feel when they encounter these images.

  • chasms (line 2)
  • open maws (line 3)
  • almost shouts and almost lures (lines 4 and 5)
  • that old sweat and bother (lines 9-10)
  • a total stranger (line 15)
  • like a forgettable dream to haunt him (lines 16-17)
  • almost brought a fair price (line 22)
  • children grew up oak slow, gentle among the milk cows (lines 22-23)
  • got to wondering (line 27)
  • whether the rocks take over no matter what (lines 29-30)

Ask students to write poems of their own about a change that they or their families have experienced. It does not have to be about moving away from a particular place, but this may be a fruitful subject for those who once lived somewhere else. Other possible subjects might include changing schools, the birth of a new baby, an older sibling leaving home, etc. Ask students to try to convey emotion in the words and images they choose. Also, encourage them to use enjambment at least once in the poem. It will be helpful for them to have the Delea and McFarland poems on their desks as they write, as they have examples of enjambment, metaphors, etc. within easy reach as they strive to write their own poems.

Vocabulary

chasm: n., a deep hole or fissure in the earth's surface

generation: n., a group of individuals, most of whom are the same approximate age, having similar ideas, attitudes, problems, etc.

hardwood: n., name for a variety of trees that have hard, compact wood, such as oak, cherry, maple, and mahogany

homestead: n., any dwelling, with its land and its buildings, where a family makes its home

maw: n., a large opening that resembles the open jaws of an animal

out of mind: adj., forgotten

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