Friday, November 10, 2006

A Little Poetry for You: Sting

I've got the Poetry Friday round-up today. Let me know when you've posted, and I'll add you here.

In the mid-1980's I was lucky enough to have an ultra-cool, young, and admittedly very-good-looking English teacher. Truth be told, Mr. K taught English much the same way as every other English teacher I had from 7th grade on. There was nothing remarkable about his curriculum or even his approach to teaching.

Except when it came time to study poetry. Mr. K gave us an assignment to bring a poem to class, and that day -- as we each sat there with our Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, or (for the more poetry-savvy) maybe our William Carlos Williams or T. S. Eliot -- Mr. K passed out copies of the poem he'd selected.

It was the lyrics to "King of Pain," which was at that time a top-of-the-charts hit. I stared at the mimeo thinking, "This isn't poetry. It's pop culture. What kind of an English teacher uses Sting as his poet of choice? Does he think we're all so ignorant we can't read a real poem and appreciate it?"

Then the class talked about the lyrics, er, poem. And the more we talked about it, the more I came to appreciate why Mr. K chose "King of Pain" as a poem. Now this isn't one of my favorite poems. It's not even one of my favorite songs. And I don't think I'd use this if I were teaching poetry. But when we talk about how to help kids learn about and appreciate poetry, this type of lesson is important to consider. After all, kids are exposed to verse of lesser and greater quality all the time.

King of Pain

There's a little black spot on the sun today
It's the same old thing as yesterday
There's a black cat caught in a high tree top
There's a flag pole rag
And the wind won't stop

(Chorus omitted)

There's a fossil that's trapped
In a high cliff wall
There's a dead salmon frozen in a waterfall
There's a blue whale beached
By a springtide's ebb
There's a butterfly trapped in a spider's web

There's a king on a throne
With his eyes torn out
There's a blind man looking
For a shadow of doubt
There's a rich man sleeping on a golden bed
There's a skeleton choking
On a crust of bread

There's a red fox torn by a huntsman's pack
There's a black winged gull
With a broken back
There's a little black spot on the sun today
It's the same old thing as yesterday

(Chorus omitted)

Go here for full song lyrics.

What do you think -- are song lyrics a good way to get kids interested in poetry?



Eisha highlights Hey There, Stink Bug! -- a nominee in the CYBILs poetry category that has her tickled -- over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

At Farm School, it's Grandmama's birthday, and Becky offers good wishes and an "Afternoon with Grandmother."

Check it Out: MsMac picked up a new copy of Jack Prelutsky's What a Day it Was at School, and she's selected "It's Library Time" for us this week. She also inspires us to think about the books we are grateful for, a question I think I'll revisit within the next few days.

Over at Blue Rose Girls, Elaine Magliaro shows us how science and poetry can come together beautifully to help children both learn and appreciate the world around them.

Christine shares a poem from a good friend (and a poet you're sure to recognize) in the land of The Simple and the Ordinary.

Continuing down the blog road to Big A little a, Kelly says Ninety-three in My Family is "certain to delight the young reader."

Don't Forget Your Etiquette is sure to bring some smiles. Anne tells us about it at Book Buds.

Susan shows how "Seals" can make you smile when you most need it. Pop over to Susan Writes for that.

Don't forget to check out the Cybils site, where you can see today's "Review of the Day" is, in fact, a poetry book: Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow. While you're there, why not nominate a 2006 poetry book for a Cybils prize?

Fuse #8 introduces us to the little-known but wonderful Red Fox at McCloskey's Farm. "In a word, fun."

We're always happy to see another Oddaptation from Gregory K of GottaBook fame. This week he presents his Oddaptation of "The Sneetches."

Little Willow goes Shakespeare on us this week, with perhaps my most favorite passage from all the plays, which comes at the end of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Jen Robinson stays with e. e. cummings (and who can blame her?) with her "puddle-wonderful" offering of Days of Innocence 2.

Mary Lee at A Year of Reading gives us a chance to read, and to listen to the poet read and discuss, Kay Ryan's "Turtle." I love these opportunities to hear poets read their own work!

I found out today what Haibun is, thanks to Cloudscome's "November 10 Haibun" post over at A Wrung Sponge.

Kelly Fineman takes on the extreme-poetry-challenge of the sestina, and includes Jason Schneiderman's "Buffy Sestina" for your enjoyment.

It's a good time for Remembrance no matter where you are. Michele offers two poems and some biographical information about the poets at Scholar's Blog.

Speaking of remembering, The Old Coot is remembering the 247th birthday of Friedrich von Schiller with von Schiller's "An die Freud" (To Joy). You can read it in the original German, or follow the link for the English translation.

And over at Chicken Spaghetti, Susan takes us on a tour of Kristine O'Connell George's Poetry Corner and finds a lovely poem called "Nest Construction."

Saturday and Later Additions:

Wendy checks in with The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars on Blog from the Windowsill. Says Wendy, "Heavenly bodies are ripe for poetic imagery...."

I found my way back to Oz and Ends Tuesday because of a post about Ellen Raskin. I stayed because of the Flying Monkeys, and to catch up on a few days of missed posts. And while I was wandering through, I found this original Poetry Friday contribution from J. L. Bell: Poem for Polychrome. Sorry about that -- missed it on my original rounding up.


Elaine Magliaro said...


POETRY FRIDAY: Science & Poetry has been posted at Blue Rose Girls. It includes a review of OUR SEASONS, which was written by Grace Lin and Ranida T. McKneally.

Christine M said...

Nancy - I'm in this week
thanks for doing the round up

Anonymous said...

Hi Nancy:

Here's my link:

Thanks for doing the roundup :)

Susan Taylor Brown said...

Hi Nancy, I've got a fun poem called SEALS by Dorothy Keeley Aldis over at SusanWrites

Thanks for rounding up all the goodies for us!

Little Willow said...

My favorite lines from AMSND today, in honor of my friend who is in a production opening this evening.

Yes, I do think lyrics can be poignant and poetic.

eisha said...

Nice roundup, Nancy! Thanks!

I was about nine when that song came out, and I loved it - it's one of the first times I remember being aware that something meant more than it actually said. So, I guess you and your teacher are right - it is a good way to introduce poetry.

Anonymous said...

I'm continuing the Remembrance theme.

Nancy said...

Thanks for playing Poetry Friday all!

Little Willow, I absolutely agree that lyrics can be poignant and poetic. They can also be god-awful. :)

Eisha, in Grad School we talked a lot about what "literature" was, and whether film or television could be considered part of literature. It was interesting to consider. Certainly you could argue that a film's screenplay is literature, but what about the film itself? A song's lyrics might be poetic, but are they poetry? I'm not arguing against, just paraphrasing the questions.

Kelly Fineman said...

My high school English teacher, Mrs. Zyga, gave us song lyrics as well. "Miss American Pie," no less. It's a genius idea for teaching kids about poetry, because they can identify with it and see poetry as a less-threatening species.

Thanks for the post!

What Maternal Instinct? said...

Ahhh ... Sting ... I'm always in the mood for '80s nostalgia. Sigh. Thanks for the post and for the link!

RM1(SS) (ret) said...

Here's mine:

Susan said...

Finally! I posted for Poetry Friday.

Thank you for doing the round-up. I linked to Kristine O'Connell George's "Nest Building" at

runart said...

I agree that assigning song lyrics or using them in English class to teach poetry is extremely effective. I remember our assignment in senior was to choose a song we thought particularly poetic. Surprisingly since The Beatles are my gods I chose something by Simon and Garfunkle - "For Emily Whenever I may Find Her." Hopeless romantic...
LOVE the Sting lyrics.

jules said...

It just so happens that I've got Liz Rosenberg's 'Earth-Shattering Poems' and 'Light-Gathering Poems' this week from the library. In the former, she writes: "Poetry is ageless; we each step into it at the right moment for us. No one can enforce poetry; if no one would try, more people might realize they want and need it. It's around us all the time, of course -- for instance, in the form of song lyrics. I don't know any group of people more intensely responsive to songs than twelve- to twenty-year-olds. And if you bother to listen to the lyrics, you'll find that they can be rough, mysterious, sexy, nonsensical, depressing, dangerous, contradictory, hard to decode -- all the things people say they dislike about poetry."

My high school English teacher discussed Sting's lyrics from "Englishman in New York", which came out at that time when I was a sophomore in high school. She also brought up other songwriters -- I think it's a great way to get kids interested.

Great post!

web said...

Here I am:

I used to love reading books that discussed song lyrics (_The Poetry of Rock_ is a title that springs to mind.)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Nancy, for rounding me up! In fact, thanks for rounding everyone up this week!