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WHHS’ Living Poets Society

AP+Literature+and+Composition+teacher+Jake+Riordan+helps+SENIOR+Isabelle+Brandicourt+%28right%29+and+Louis+Martini%2C+%E2%80%9820+%28left%29%2C+with+ideas+for+a+project.+Riordan+worked+closely+with+his+students+during+second+quarter+as+they+completed+a+comprehensive+poetry+study%2C+including+guiding+them+as+they+wrote+poems+in+the+style+of+a+living+poet+and+then+sent+their+poem+to+the+poet.
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WHHS’ Living Poets Society

AP Literature and Composition teacher Jake Riordan helps SENIOR Isabelle Brandicourt (right) and Louis Martini, ‘20 (left), with ideas for a project. Riordan worked closely with his students during second quarter as they completed a comprehensive poetry study, including guiding them as they wrote poems in the style of a living poet and then sent their poem to the poet.

AP Literature and Composition teacher Jake Riordan helps SENIOR Isabelle Brandicourt (right) and Louis Martini, ‘20 (left), with ideas for a project. Riordan worked closely with his students during second quarter as they completed a comprehensive poetry study, including guiding them as they wrote poems in the style of a living poet and then sent their poem to the poet.

Rehme Leanza

AP Literature and Composition teacher Jake Riordan helps SENIOR Isabelle Brandicourt (right) and Louis Martini, ‘20 (left), with ideas for a project. Riordan worked closely with his students during second quarter as they completed a comprehensive poetry study, including guiding them as they wrote poems in the style of a living poet and then sent their poem to the poet.

Rehme Leanza

Rehme Leanza

AP Literature and Composition teacher Jake Riordan helps SENIOR Isabelle Brandicourt (right) and Louis Martini, ‘20 (left), with ideas for a project. Riordan worked closely with his students during second quarter as they completed a comprehensive poetry study, including guiding them as they wrote poems in the style of a living poet and then sent their poem to the poet.

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Poetry is a literary work that combines the writer’s distinctive style and rhythm, and can be as intimidating to write as it is to analyze.
AP Literature and Composition teacher Jake Riordan tries to approach poetry in a special way.
“I survey my students every year about what their strengths are in my AP English class and what their weaknesses are, and every year for the last several years, they’ve said that poetry is their weakness,” Riordan said.
Riordan sees this as both an opportunity to improve the course and challenge himself, and so he began to read poetry over the summer before the 2018-2019 school year.
“So I thought, why don’t [I] just start a unit with instead of a dead poets analysis, a living poets analysis?” Riordan said.
Through the first 45 days of class, Riordan read poems from many different contemporary poets.
During the middle of second quarter, his students selected a living, award-winning poet to study multiple works and eventually, write a poem in their poet’s style.

AP Literature and Composition teacher Jake Riordan helps SENIOR Isabelle Brandicourt (right) and Louis Martini, ‘20 (left), with ideas for a project. Riordan worked closely with his students during second quarter as they completed a comprehensive poetry study, including guiding them as they wrote poems in the style of a living poet and then sent their poem to the poet.

A key component to the project is that students understand their poet’s style and are able to replicate that style to produce an original work. “Contemporary poetry now is almost all free verse, very low rhyme, very little exact meter,” Riordan said.When replicating style similar to a contemporary poet, he recommended that the students “choose a poet who has gone through something that [they]’ve gone through” or that students find a poet whose message they resonate with.
Following the end of the project, Riordan encouraged his students to send their poems to the poets they studied, and some students ended up receiving responses from some of them.

To get the top coat of America to not just respond, but to respond specifically, like showing they actually read their poems, was a really exciting thing.”

— Jake Riordan

This includes several famous poets, including Billy Collins, the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001-2003.
“So we have about at least 10 responses,
some of them very specific [to the works of the students]” Riordan said. “To get the top coat of America to not just respond, but to respond specifically, like showing they actually read their poems, was a really exciting thing.”
Many students in AP classes are, as Riordan says, “just trying to survive.” While many students are treading water in a sense to balance the work of all their classes, it may be tough to realize how great an experience truly is.
Riordan hopes that in the future his students will appreciate how hard they worked to feel comfortable with and even write poetry, and how amazing it really is to receive feedback about their poems from contemporary poets.

Riordan’s motivation for the project was to challenge himself and help his students feel less intimidated about poetry. “I like to think it made a difference in a lot of kids, it remains to be seen, I didn’t ask them in a kind of survey or anything but hopefully it was there,” Riordan said.
Moving forward in his class, Riordan wants to bring in live poets to talk about their works that his students will have studied and read in class.
The project influenced many students significantly, with some making multiple revisions to create an amazing piece of poetry, and others who found confidence in their writing enough to read their work to an audience, which Riordan offered as extra credit to encourage students to feel proud about their work and share it with their peers.

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