Characteristics of Poetry for Young Adults
One essential key to identifying the best poetry to use with young adults is to remember their developmental period. While children are not developmentally “ready” for young adult poetry, adolescents do not usually enjoy children’s poetry. While there are always some exceptions such as the poems of Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky, in general, young adult poetry should be evaluated on the criteria listed in Considerations for Selecting Young Adult Literature: Poetry.
Unfortunately, young adults might not like a poem that possesses all these characteristics because, like adults, adolescents have their own individual tastes, likes, and dislikes. Thomas (2001) goes so far as to contend that many contemporary poets who are writing for young adults disempower adolescent readers by writing in traditional ways and encourages adults to look for poems that push the boundaries of poetry by providing highly complex explorations of the feelings, emotions, and experiences of young adults. Thus, you must be sure to expose adolescents to a number of different poems in an attempt to interest as man readers as possible.
When identifying poetry to use in a classroom or add to a library collection, educators must remember that females and males differ as readers, writers, and critics and bring unique perspectives to poetry including their expectations for appropriate male and female behavior. To determine the gender messages including the biases and stereotypes in adolescent poetry and the possible impact of poetry on gender identity, Johnson, McClanahan, and Mertz (1999) examined poetry anthologies for young adults. They identified five anthologies that “show both females and males as complex human beings rather than flat and one dimensional subjects” (p. 39) and that could be used “in valuable ways to initiate classroom dialogue in an attempt to break various gender stereotypes before the stereotypes become permanent in the minds of adolescents” (p. 39).
Considerations for Selecting Young Adult Literature Poetry
When selecting poetry for young adults, ask the following questions:
- Does the poem have meaning for the young adult—can the young adult relate to the topic, the setting, the theme, or the emotion being conveyed?
- Does the poem elicit rich sensory images or deep emotional responses, which young adults appreciate or understand?
- Does the poem allow adolescents to experience the power of words and to explore how words can elicit certain emotional responses?
- Does the poem have vivid imagery and vibrant language?
- Will the poem provide pleasure (i.e., can young adults relate to the poetry in some way either as an event or emotion they have experienced or would like to experience)?
© ______ 2006, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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