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Tales from the Loft

Poetry and Basketball.... Do they REALLY go together?!?

Every March the world loses its mind over March Madness, and in middle school we use that opportunity to combine the frenzy with poetry. Yes. Poetry.

Gambling over Women's Basketball.

Gambling over Men's Basketball.

Competing with 64 poems.

Just like basketball but poetry. 32 poems written by living poets. 32 poems written by dead poets. Let the games begin!

Round of 64 - Every day for eight straight days, we read eight poems and vote. Students just listen to me reading out loud. An introduction without explanation.

Round of 32 - Every day for four straight days, we read eight poems and vote. But this time students have access to a document so they may follow along, listening, as I again read aloud.

Round of 16 - Every day for four days, students read the poems silently and pick their favorite section, three or four lines, and we read those in a round. The lines are out of order and scattered, and there is beauty in those creations. We repeat the activity, choosing then one line, and finally one word. Then I read aloud as they follow along.

Round of 8 - For two days, we dive into four poems each session. We finally start to analyze, seeking meaning at a literal level. Are there vocabulary terms we need to define? What is the story at a literal level? This is the last time I read aloud as the students follow along.

Semi-Finals - Four student readers are chosen and the class divides into four groups. They listen to their designated reader, offering oratorial feedback. The group comes back to the class, ready to explain a couple of main symbols used in their poem that offer a deeper contextual meaning. After a short discussion, the student reads. We vote.

Finals - The designated readers stand and read while we all just listen. And then we vote.

Because the entire process takes a month, much discussion ensues over which poems are favorites, what they all mean, how they connect to us on an emotional level, and so on. While we only analyze a few of our offerings, students express passionate opinions about many of the poems, often holding on to a select few even after they are voted down.

The readers:

  • Reeves - "Gifts" by Kirk Wilson

  • Olivia - "Valentine" by Carol Ann Duffy

  • Graydon - "O' Captain, My Captain" by Walt Whitman

  • Camryn - "Phenomenal Woman" by Maya Angelou

Camryn - "Dance, Olivia! We made it to the FINALS!" ... "My mom would like this poem." (She means "Phenomenal Woman")

Olivia - "I'm only reading to you guys. I refuse to read to anyone else. I will not share this with the school. No way!" "Also, 'Valentine' is the best! It really is. It better win."

Tyson - "Reeves! Of course Women's Basketball is superior! I won that bracket! Plus those SC players are superrr tall."

Reeves - "Tyson! You don't know what you're talking about. I won the Men's Basketball. They're obviously superior. I'll even fight you over it!"

AND..... the winning poem is.............


By Carol Ann Duffy

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion,

It is a moon wrapped in brown paper,

It promises light

like the careful undressing of love.


It will blind you with tears

like a lover.

It will make your reflection

a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.

Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,

possessive and faithful

as we are,

for as long as we are.

Take it.

Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,

if you like.


Its scent will cling to your fingers,

cling to your knife.

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1 Comment

Fun! I love the length and repetition leading to those side discussions, keeping the poems alive and encouraging deeper thought into them. March Poem Madness for the win!

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