These are some of the poems that I use in my college prep Poetry Course at Newark Memorial High School, a public school in the East San Francisco Bay Area.
We begin the year with a unit of study around poetic voice. I like to teach pieces like Nemerov's "Because You Asked About the Line Between Prose and Poetry" and Billy Collins' "Introduction to Poetry" to initiate conversations and thinking about the form and how it differentiates from prose. Two very spare poems by Williams Carlos Williams are very useful to model annotation of a poem, in which students break down the speaker, details, imagery, construction, and messages in a work.
Early in the year, we write a lot of "list poems" to jog creative thinking and help students grow accustomed to writing poetry. I draw upon selections from Neruda's Book of Questions to stimulate student voice. In response to Neruda's whimsical poems, students write their own question poems.
We follow the Voice unit with a four-six week unit on Imagery, Metaphor, Symbol. I find Pound's "Metro" poem and other Japanese Haiku critical in teaching about how poets capture multiple senses in a single, compact image. I love drawing upon the deeply symbolic work of William Blake, Edgar Allan Poe, and Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird to examine what happens when a single image takes on a larger meaning.
We end our first semester studying Sound. "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks is a wonderful, complex poem to demonstrate assonance, alliteration, and line break (I also have students listen to the splendid audio version available on the poets.org website). "Annabel Lee" and "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" also serve to show how lulling, repetitive sounds can impact a poem's overall message.
Often, I do a spring unit around the Poetry of Love and Desire. Neruda's passionate love poems are the classics that we begin the unit with; students are then asked to draw upon the language and imagery of nature to write love poetry. They also read Shakespearean sonnets in pairs and splice them into dramatic "scripts" that they perform as a group. Additionally, cummings' poem is a model of how writers can avoid cliched, overwrought language and use poetic license to convey love in a fresh, moving fashion.
In addition to reading and studying the craft of established poets, students participate in extensive workshop-ing and revision of their own writing. "The Changing Light" by Ferlinghetti provides an excellent example of how poets can use line breaks and spacing in their poems.
On the last day of the year, I share one of my favorite poets, Bukowski, with my students. "so you want to be a writer" is a compelling poem about "what it takes" to be a writer. My hope is by the end of our year together, students think of themselves as writers and poets, ready to take on the challenge that Bukowski speaks of in his poem!