Love is in the Air: Poetry in Middle School

A review copy of this book was provided by Alfred A. Knopf for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children's Books.

Springtime not only brings more poetry into our classroom, but it also ignites a desire for many middle school students to ask each other out.  When I taught fifth grade, I noticed some of my students were often lovestruck during the final months of school, even though they were just little kids a few months earlier.  A few of my former fifth graders even wrote love poems in their poetry notebooks, which also prompted a few quiet conversations.  Seeing as I taught fifth grade, not eighth grade, I don’t think I would’ve encouraged teaching students how to write love poems.  However, if I were a middle school  teacher right now, I’d be reaching for Pat Mora‘s newest poetry book, Dizzy in Your Eyes: Poems About Love.

Dizzy is a collection of love poems, which include topics like crushes, the way families react to young relationships, love letters, and breakups.  Some of the poems are infused with Spanish, while one “Ode to Teachers” appears in English and in Spanish (as “Oda a las maestras”).  The poetry is written in the voice of boys and girls, which makes it feel incredibly authentic.

What I truly admired about Dizzy is its ability to be used as a mentor text.  Many of the poems in this book contain footnotes about the poetic forms used.  Mora describes each poetic form to the reader, so they can gain a better understanding of what it will take to try that form themselves.  Dizzy has at least one poem that takes on each of the following forms:

  • Acrostic

  • Anaphora

  • Blank verse

  • Blues

  • Cinquain

  • Couplet

  • Dialogue

  • Haiku

  • Letter poem

  • List poem

  • Lyric

  • Ode

  • Pantoum

  • Sestina

  • Song

  • Sonnet

  • Tanka

  • Tercet

  • Triolet

  • Villanelle

Here is one of the many poems I admired from Mora’s book:

Kissing

When my dad saw us kissing

at the bus stop,

he just drove by.

At home, he said

nothing.

At dinner, he said

nothing.

so loud the room sounded

like my heart.

“What?” I snapped.

“What’s happening?”

Mom asked, reading me

like she did when

I was three,

finding

what I couldn’t hide.

Dad stared at me,

and I glared back,

our look-alike eyes

locked for days, it seemed–

maybe people had gone to bed

and gotten up, gone

to school –

while Dad and I tangled in silence.

I felt sleepy and worried.

What if

I dozed and fell of the chair, curled

into a nap right there

by the dining room table

like a child.

What if

my parents looked at one another,

and Dad gently picked me up

like in the old days,

carried me,

but now he can’t

carry me now.

Dad slapped

the table.

Basta. Enough.”

We met halfway.

“Don’t embarrass yourself,”

he whispered into my hair

when we hugged, and I felt

the weight

of carrying me.

(Permission to publish this poem was provided by Random House.  Taken from pgs. 49 – 53.)

If you’re brave enough to encourage your students to write love poems, then use Dizzy as a mentor text to help your students explore a wide variety of poetic forms while they begin pouring their hearts out on the page.