As a Creative Writing teacher for the last five years, one of the many challenges I faced was getting the students to realize that poetry can be simple and fun. It’s doesn’t have to be a highbrow exercise in condescension. My favorite poet, Billy Collins, is nothing if not simple and direct with his word choice and imagery. It’s the simplicity that elicits the thoughtful approach any poet hopes their readers take.
Poetry is about the manipulation of words to create an image, an evocative image. It’s the use of language to produce a cohesive idea that transcends mere writing and lifts poetry to art. That being said, many novice writers may feel incredibly intimidated with the prospect of having to produce poetry. My approach to help desconstruct that barrier for the students is to introduce a formula poem like the Bio Poem.
Formula poetry is a style of poetry that adheres to an established set of guidelines in the creation of the work. There are different styles of formula poetry, some obviously more difficult than others. Some of the most popular formula poems are Haiku, Sonnets, and Cinquains, but the types I found most useful at the beginning stages of my poetry units were poems where the students finished a given line with different information. As the unit evolved, the poems became more difficult because the guidelines became less stringent.
The Bio Poem also served a dual purpose. When used at the beginning of the semester, this formula poem can also act as an icebreaker of sorts. Below you will find the guidelines for the formula, and my own Bio Poem. There are any number of different Bio Poems and this specific set of lines was presented to me at the Zelda Glazer Writing Institute about seven years ago. My intention with this post is to have it serve a something of an icebreaker for the community of this blog. I’d love it if my readers here would write their own Bio Poem as comments under this post. Please share!