Poetry Lesson: The Ode

Celebrate the unexpected with contemporary odes

One day during plan time last fall, I stumbled upon poet Kevin Young’s “Ode to the Midwest,” on the Poetry Out Loud website. I literally laughed out loud at its opening lines (I want to be doused in cheese & fried.) and knew I would have to introduce the ode to my new poetry class. Young’s poem is unexpected and irreverent; being a native Kansan, it just resonated with me. Click here to read Young’s poem.

So, in order to acquaint my students with the ode, I gave them a brief history on the form. For example, there are four kinds of odes:

We also watched this awesome video of Lucille Clifton reading “homage to my hips”:

To explore the ode for themselves, my students decided to concentrate on the contemporary ode form and explore it in a fun, freestyle way. There were no requirements to rhyme or be focused on a certain topic. The only requirement I made was that their odes be of at least ten lines.

My students came up with some great odes. Here are a few of the unexpected things they paid tribute to with their odes:

  • Darkness
  • Casseroles
  • The Color Orange
  • Heartbreak
  • The Sun
  • Artificial flowers
  • The Renaissance
  • Red markers
  • Happiness
  • Jokes
  • A car
  • Sunsets
  • The number 13, and last but not least…
  • A dysfunctional gall bladder

See what I mean? Fresh. Evocative. And totally unexpected.

And just for fun, I experimented with my own… An Ode to the Cold War. (It’s always fun to work alongside students when we try something new.)

Odes are a nice way to provide a degree of focus for poetry writing. Odes also allow students to express their unique visions.

If you’re needing an easy and fun poem form to explore with your students, definitely add the ode to your list of upcoming poem ideas. Discuss the form and its classical roots, but then shift the focus to the contemporary form so students can readily apply it to their experiences.


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Featured Photo: Photo by Autumn Goodman on Unsplash

Published by Marilyn Yung

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

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