7 Gorgeous Poems For You to Feed Your Secondary Students

A friend of mine is an incredible chef. When I visit her,
she’s constantly pulling things out of her cabinet or refrigerator for me to

“Here. Take a bite.”

“Smell this.”

“Try this. It’s SIN.”

“What do you taste?”

The stuff she has me try is always phenomenal, and always leaves me wanting more. Herb-marinated homemade feta. Pickled green tomatoes. Vanilla halvah frosting. “Can I just… have the rest of that?” I find myself asking about things I’m fully aware she needs for a recipe.

This has become my favorite way to “teach” poetry. Pulling out samples of my favorite poems and letting them settle on my students’ tongues, just for the sake of sharing something rich and delightful. This is not the only way I teach poetry—we do, of course, have to teach analysis and terms and the classics—but taking a minute or two once a week to share poetry for poetry’s sake does two things:

1) Communicates that poetry has intrinsic value, not just “something you need to pass my class/do well on the state test/SAT” value

2) Is a great way to build relationships in the classroom,
through discussion and the mere fact that you’re taking the time to experience beauty with your childlings.

Plus, here’s the best part: informally sharing poetry
secretly teaches it, too. I find that the more poetry I share with my students “for fun,” the more I catch them in discussions saying things like, “That’s a metaphor, right?” or “This reminds me of that poem we read about freckled things,” or, once, in a comment that almost made my heart stop beating, “I know that isn’t an iamb, but is there a word for the pattern in that poem?”

Here are some of my favorites and where you can find

Tracy K. Smith: “The Universe: Original Motion PictureSoundtrack”

This is a really fun poem to discuss with students. Their
ideas and interpretations will enchant you: I promise.  There are no wrong answers when you teach
poetry this way.

Power line: “What must be voices bob up, then drop, like metal shavings/In molasses.”

David Whyte: “Everything is Waiting for You”

Long before social media or video games, teenagers had a tendency to feel disconnected and alone, so I love any opportunity to share a poem about our interconnectedness and the invitation to participate. The last line is so powerful.

Power line: “Surely, even you, at times, have felt the grand array; the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding out your solo voice.”

Mary Oliver: “The Journey” 

I love Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” and always share it with my 8th graders, but this is one of her poems that I don’t let students leave my classroom without knowing.

Power line: “One day you finally knew/what you had to do, and/began”

Rupi Kaur: “There Is So Much More To You Than Being Pretty”

Students will love Rupi Kaur, both for her short, meaningful poems and for the whimsical illustrations accompanying them.

Power line: “i am sorry i made it sound as though/something as simple as what you’re born with/is the most you have to be proud of”

Naomi Shihab Nye: “Gate A-4”

I love this poem so much that I can’t decide whether it’s
more like cheese, chocolate, or wine—my holy trinity. It’s an important poem, particularly for right now.

Power line: “The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.”

Jamaal May: “There Are Birds Here”

This poem, which May wrote about Detroit, might be better understood by high school students, but that doesn’t mean middle school students can’t enjoy or be moved by it, too.

Power line: “…but they won’t stop saying/how lovely the ruins,/how ruined the lovely/children must be in that birdless city.”

Sarah Kay: “B (If I Should Have a Daughter)”

Definitely worth listening to out loud in addition to or
instead of reading on paper. Also this has the “d” word for those whose students have never heard that word before and whose ears will crumble at its mention.

Power line: “…because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline no matter how many times it is sent away.”

What are the most delicious poems you know?

(And yes, I will be using “gorgeous” to describe inanimate objects like poems or iced coffee or Kleenex Cool Touch from now on. Thank you, Jonathan Van Ness, you gorgeous human.)