Skip to main content
Amanda Groman speaks at the University of Buffalo as part of their Distinguished Speaker Series.

Amanda Groman speaks at the University of Buffalo as part of their Distinguished Speaker Series.

Poetry Is Having a Moment, and It Isn't in April

May 17, 2024

Poetry Is Having a Moment, and It Isn't in April

Amber Chandler discusses how she is working to create a space where poetry is welcomed, not scheduled.


Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Pinterest
Share On LinkedIn

This is going to sound a bit dramatic, but to tell you the truth, it was a Moment. When Amanda Gorman delivered her “The Hill We Climb” inaugural speech on Jan. 20, 2021, my class was watching live. You could have heard a pin drop in my middle school classroom, so I’m not exaggerating when I say that it was a Moment (yes, with a capital M). By the time her speech was over, my co-teacher and I were in tears, and we knew that we finally had a reason to do the poetry unit we always put off. We teach in an integrated co-teaching model, and traditionally poetry has felt a bit superfluous, like an add-on, one that we’d tack on in April for Poetry Month, right in the midst of our state assessment. 

However, the world shifted a little that day, as a young Black woman with a speech impediment and a bold yellow dress, braids piled atop her head like a queen, stood courageously at the scene of an insurrection to offer a way forward while keeping her finger on the pulse of the vast historical implications of her words. (Watch what she has to say about her insane “electric moment” here). Last month, I was able to attend the University of Buffalo Distinguished Speaker Series, and listen to Amanda Gorman herself describe the moment that changed her life and the advice she has for all of us about poetry, but particularly about the teaching of poetry. 

She was all that we hoped she’d be. Funny, for one. As she told the audience that we could snap, or better yet, act like “old Black ladies at church” reacting with “mmm hmm” or, sometimes, like we were eating dark chocolate, slowly, with “mmmm mmmm” if the “spirit moves you” to appreciate something she said, if it resonated with us. She was intelligent beyond her years, but also 100 percent in her youth—her stories punctuated with “slay” and “get it girl.” In short, we all knew that we were in the room with greatness, and we were there for it, even though most of us were twice her age. Many of us were there because we were fangirls, but it was also evident that we needed something from her, some advice, some ideas, something to make the teaching of poetry make sense in the post-pandemic, post-insurrection, often artificial intelligence generated world we live in. 

She took questions from the audience, and thankfully, someone asked her how poetry should be approached in school. Remember my “April Poetry Month” unit—the afterthought, guiltily squeezed in? Yeah, that is the playbook for what not to do. Of course I knew my tiny tribute unit didn’t pack a punch (and in many cases got nudged out), but when Amanda Gorman takes a shot at “curated” and “cookie cutter” poetry, you take note. As we head into summer vacation, I have promised myself that I’m going to capitalize on the fact that poetry is having a moment, and I am not going to relegate it to April next year. Here are three takeaways from her advice about teaching poetry: 

Poetry Is for Everyone

Amanda Gorman repeatedly implored the audience, especially us teachers, to quit gatekeeping poetry. She also made sure we understood that poetry is not for English teachers, but for all teachers, particularly history teachers. She is, as she reminded us, a researcher at heart, and her poetry particularly is rooted in tradition while also being inspired by scrolling the darkest part of X (formerly Twitter) for all the voices, even, or maybe especially, for those who’d silence her. The #1 Partner Content of 2021, by PBS Newshour Classroom, provides resources that situate Gorman, the inauguration, and her poetry in the news and in the consciousness of our country. “Climate Change Poetry Analysis and Writing Practice” juxtaposes science and Gorman’s poem “Earthrise.” The message Gorman had for the teachers in the audience was clear, and it was that we need to quit gatekeeping who teaches poetry and how we allow it into our students’ lives. 

Poetry Is Words

One of the more endearing parts of the night was when Gorman explained how she became such a wordsmith, desiring always to play with sound and meaning. She credits this trait as a survival mechanism because she suffers from a hearing / auditory processing disorder that basically leaves her hearing words in near rhyme. Instead of wallowing in how this might have disrupted her life, she instead calls it a superpower, a way to hear more, and a way for connections to be made where they might not have been before. She explains that if you hear not just one word, but the sounds for “cereal” and “clearer,” for example, you can draw upon a wider range of words. I know that one of the things my students loved most about Gorman was how she accepted her “flaws” and reappropriated them as powers. Watch this conversation with Oprah Winfrey here, and you’ll see how Gorman subverts labels. 

Remote video URL

Poetry Is Having a Moment 

If you are intrigued by my night with Amanda Gorman (while there were several hundred other people there, I’ll continue to see this as “our” conversation”), there’s an undercurrent flowing across social media about poetry, Amanda Gorman, and even our need to move away from a poetry month. My teenagers are the most reliable sources of information when it comes to trends, and my daughter (a freshman in college), pointed out that TikTok is alive with poetry, with many accounts in a wide variety of languages, topping 50,000 followers. Our conversation made me rethink my approach to poetry next year. If students already are engaging with poetry, and school is the place that puts it in a box for April only, then I really have to get out of the way, and let poetry “do its thing.” It will be my job to figure out how to create a space where poetry is welcomed, not scheduled. 

I’d love to hear your ideas on how to allow poetry to take up residence in your classroom! Share in the comments or reach out via X @MsAmberChandler. 

Poetry Appreciation

For educators and guardians looking to inspire their students and children with the beauty of poetry, this collection offers a comprehensive toolkit to make poetry accessible and enjoyable, ensuring that each lesson not only educates but also captivates the imagination.

Amber Chandler
  Amber Chandler is a National Board Certified middle school ELA teacher in Hamburg, New York with a Master’s Degree in Literature, as well as a School Building Leader certification. She is the 2018 Association for Middle Level Educators’ “Educator of the Year.”  Amber has enjoyed a wide variety of... See More

Post a comment

Log in or sign up to post a comment.