teaching poetry

Guerilla Poetry: Subversiveness in (and out) of the Classroom

Everyone loves Banksy. And if you don’t know about Banksy yet, crawl out from under your corporate junk filled lives!!! Just kidding. I think I first learned of the guerilla artist through the Colbert report, so…I’m not sure what that says about me.
























These evocative images obviously speak for themselves, and have a certain element of sadness that most social-activism, in any form, seeps.

Anyway, everyone’s caught up on Banksy because this is technically “vandalism,” just as graffiti is. And he sneaks in during the night and leaves something a bit more profound than a cracked wall. And he’s pretty baller at it, too.

There is a certain aspect of space and place that is necessary for his art to “work.” Would it mean the same hanging in a swank gallery downtown? Would it mean the same reproduced and hung in a coffee shop?

And what does this have to do with a language arts class? For teenagers?

I came across ‘guerilla poetry’ somewhere on the internet awhile back. I said to myself, “that’s cool, but I am not cool enough to teach that.” Keep in mind that gorillas are not involved, but this is not stopping me from thinking about wearing a gorilla suit to introduce the unit.

I have since stopped trying to be cool, because when I try I end up being way less cool than I began. So what the hell! Guerilla poetry it is.

I would say I am a “student” of the art form, meaning I don’t know a whole lot and am relying on the internet to figure this out, because it’s not exactly something I learned how to do in college.

This article from the Guardian was a good place for me to start. It is a pretty honest and practical way to carry out the form in the classroom.

Just like with Banksy’s art, this brings writing into a different space and place, and adds an element of excitement and subversiveness that most teenagers can get behind.


And most importantly, it shows them they are writers always–in any place, on any surface.


And here are some examples that I found that I’ll be showing my students:

geurilla poetry3 don't_let_poetry_die guerilla4



























Now obviously we will not be spray painting walls. I think it would be wonderful and exhilarating, but we must all tow lines of appropriateness in the workplace. We’ll see 🙂 Maybe we will pretend with chalk.

Have any of you tried/taught guerilla poetry? What works? What doesn’t? I need ideas!




My “Where I’m From” Poem

Summer, for me, consists of a lot of consuming: consuming books, consuming coffee, consuming blog posts that other people write (guilty). I always forget how easy it is to consume and then basically have nothing. Why not do some creating?

Some creating, this summer, has been: lesson plans, blog posts, and poetry. Now, it’s very difficult for me to share poetry with people, much less the whole internet.

Every year I teach the “Where I’m From” poem, championed first by George Ella Lyon—the form being copied in classrooms, anthologies, and blogs everywhere. I even wrote one in high school, then college, now as a teacher. Every year I teach this form, and every year I write a new one.

Here’s this year’s:


“I’m From”

 I’m from fried wild mushrooms picked with dad,

earth and fat in one bite.


From gym class in 6th grade when the planes hit the towers—

the sadness of a hundred thousand strangers.


From garden tomatoes

and ice cream Spongebobs from music-box trucks.


I’m from vising my grandparents faithfully, because they are the strongest.


Saturday morning house-cleaning, picking vacuuming so I could sing loud.


From the last 20 tear-stained Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pages signaling the end

of childhood.


From learning how to walk away from the bad

And how to trust God

And feel capable of it all. 


This will keep changing, I’m sure, because that’s what happens when you write anything. It’s pretty difficult to share you deep dark thoughts (in poem form at that) with snarky teenagers. But I keep doing it.

I think I like the I’m From poem because anyone can write it—we are all from something, whether we like it or not. With the kids I teach, some of them don’t like where they’re from. They hate where they’re from. So I don’t ask them to think about their childhoods, but ask them what are some things in front of them right now that impact them. Like cell phones. Whether we like it or not, we’re all from cell phones. Cell phones have shaped our human culture. This could definitely make it into a line somewhere.

It’s also cool to have them counter it with a “Where I’m Going” poem. A great way to end a unit.

Teachers, have you taught the ubiquitous “Where I’m From” poem? What are you favorite strategies/ideas?