Tips for Teachers and Classroom Resources

Five Modern Poets to Include in Your High School Syllabus

By The Editorial Team

Teaching high school students poetry is about introducing them to the form and style in which poets write. It’s also about beginning to think about the message behind the poem. As students practice “reading between the lines” and not just taking the poems literally, they start to unlock the messages within themselves that may come out in poetic form.

There are many modern American poets who can be used as examples of different kinds of messages delivered as a poem. Studying the poets and their lives, as well as their works, connects these rich themes with real people. This gives the high school student something to ponder as they create their own identities: I wonder what stories I have within me?

Ralph Angel

Born in Seattle in 1951, Ralph Angel is the creator of poems published in The American Poetry Review, The New Yorker and The Antioch Review. His work has been assembled in various collections such New American Poets of the 90s and The Best American Poetry. He has received awards for exceptional poetry by Poetry Magazine and the Fulbright Foundation. He currently teaches English at the University of Redlands near Los Angeles.

Angel writes about individual human experiences in a way that tweaks the senses and puts the reader into the poem. His poem “Sampling,”  begins “I’m standing on 10th Street. I’m not the only one. Buildings rise like foliage and human touch.” The reader sees himself standing there on that street.

Annie Finch

Annie Finch was born in New Rochelle, New York in 1956. She pursued an academic life obtaining an undergraduate degree at Yale and a doctorate from Stanford . Creative writing was her focus and is now her passion. She has many poetry books to her name as well as published single works.

Her poems have been read out loud and performed on stage, such as at HBO’s Def Poetry Jam. Her contemporary offerings have inspired dance and she has written two operas. She has also written books about writing poetry.

Finch’s work is inspired by the earth and earth energy. Topics such as sex, childbirth, myth and magic have caused her to create poetry full of grounded earth spirituality. A true contemporary and eclectic poet, she is a practicing Wiccan and Creative Writing Director at the University of Southern Maine.

Vanessa Place

Born an “Army brat” in 1968, Vanessa Place eventually went to Boston University law school and received a JD. Her conceptual poetry comes from her experiences in law and with the natural laws that bind people. Her work is an example of poetry that comes from life and its experiences.

In her poem “Archeology,” she looks at what happens when we examine our own beliefs and values:

“We must ask ourselves what purpose is
ultimately served by this suspension of
all the accepted unities
if, in the end, we return to the unities
that we pretended to question at the outset.”

Ron Silliman

Ron Silliman was born in 1946 in Pasco, Washington. The family moved to southern California and he attended San Francisco State University. Protesting the Vietnam Conflict, he became a conscientious objector and opposed the draft. His poetry began to be published while was still in college. His poems were published in many of the popular anthologies and journals at the time.

Author of many books about poetry and prose, his writing is credited with having influenced a rekindling of interest in story-form poetry, especially those with a longer format. He has written more than 20 books of poetry. His work often contains the passionate tone of activism, something for which Silliman has always had a liking.  He translates the energy of this passion into many of his poems. He also became an active blogger, using that medium as a way to get out his creative words.

Liz Waldner

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Liz Waldner’s writing is about self-discovery and searching for truth. She has published many books of poetry and has been included in many anthologies. She has received awards and grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the Barbara Deming Memorial Money for Women Fund. She has received fellowships from such institutions as the MacDowell Colony.

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