One cold, rainy day, a large stack of poetry books lay idle on a teacher's desk. As the children were coming in from recess outdoors, a pot of tea seemed in order. Soon the children were sprawled on the floor, each with a poetry book and a cup of tea. For the next two hours, the children were absorbed in the books and taking turns reciting poems as they found them. Thus was born our first "Poetry Tea."
This first tea was so successful with the younger classes, we decided to extend the idea to the entire school. Some of us were not sure how the boys would respond to the idea, but were very pleasantly surprised.
The students all help in preparation for the tea. Some arrange desks and chairs, some make pots of steaming herbal tea and prepare refreshments, and some gather poetry books from shelves and distribute them onto desks. Once everyone has their cup of tea and a few cookies or crackers, we start browsing through the poetry books. The room is usually very quiet while the children find something they want to read aloud. One at a time, each student stands to read their chosen poem. Once these poetry readings begin, it is difficult to bring the Poetry Tea to an end. Everyone wants to share just one more.
We have not put too many restrictions on the poems chosen for recital, except they cannot be too long nor sarcastic. The poems chosen during the first several teas were not necessarily the most profound, and it was clear that the poetic tastes of boys and girls differed quite a bit. The boys chose the long silly ones, and the girls chose the short sweet ones.
As their experience with poetry grew, the students were willing to tackle greater challenges and became fond of particular poets, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Louis Stevenson, Christina Rossetti, and James Whitcomb Riley. The relaxed atmosphere allows the students to spend time with a poem and simply enjoy the beauty and rhythm of the words. We seldom do any analysis during this time.
Poetry is also part of our daily morning routine. Each day, after our opening prayers, we sing and recite poetry. The poems are printed on 11 x 17 paper in a large font so everyone can see it. When the students know the poem by heart (often before the teachers), we take down the printed version and read the poem from our heart. Usually we are working on more than one poem at the same time. Some of our favorites are When the Frost is on the Punkin', Wet Weather Talk, A Jingle of Words, The Spider and the Fly, The Camel's Nose, A Good Thanksgiving.
Our informal Poetry Tea has borne some good fruit. At least two graduates from our eighth grade already knew the poems to be studied in their high school classes. One had some "embarrassing" moments when he realized that he was the only one in his high school class who knew the author of all the poems the Language Arts teacher was reading to the class. He told his mother about the incident and when she asked him if he could have recited all those poems, he exclaimed, " Yes, I could have recited them, but everyone was already thinking I was crazy! " He wasn't crazy, was he was well educated.
"I wanted to tell you all how much I enjoyed the Poetry Tea today. I love poetry, so it was great to see the kids getting a chance to appreciate it. And it was also very, very wonderful to see their enthusiasm. I hope that memorized recitations becomes an expected part of future teas, as it is a very good exercise for [them] to go to the effort of memorizing, then to recite with expression.
I enjoyed it so much, and it was so impressive, that I would like to suggest that it might be something to plan when you have a prospective parent who wants to come see the school in action. I can't imagine any parent seeing that and not being impressed at many levels. I hope you liked the cake because, next time such an opportunity arises, I would be happy to do more baking!"