March Madness hits AP literature

Inspired by tourney, Lacey teacher engages students in Poetry Madness

lpemberton@theolympian.comMarch 31, 2014 

After weeks of fierce competition, Poetry Madness wrapped up last week at River Ridge High School in Lacey.

Think March Madness, only with acclaimed poets instead of collegiate basketball teams.

There’s a 32-slot bracket. There’s a draft. There’s even a plaque for the winning students (one from each Advanced Placement Literature class) and their poets.

“It’s taken on a life of its own,” said teacher Angie Farley.

She said Poetry Madness was born out of a desperate attempt to get kids fired up about analyzing poetry -– it’s a skill they need for taking the AP lit exam.

She recalled grading poetry journals one night and feeling discouraged.

“The kids weren’t engaged,” Farley said.

Meantime, she watched her husband gush about everything that was related to the NCAA basketball tournament known as March Madness.

“He is a huge basketball fan,” Farley said.

Since so many of her students were also athletes, she thought they might enjoy the material better if it was presented as a competition.

It worked.

Now, Poetry Madness is a tradition at River Ridge. Students are required to research their poets. During each round, they read a poem and debate with another student the literary analysis and merit, as well as the poet’s influence.

The winning student moves on to the next round, and is required to do a different poem.

“And then they have to research who they’re going up against,” Farley said.

The battles can get intense. Some students, such as Sara Sutmiller, 17, compete with two poets to help fill the bracket, and earn some extra credit.

Sutmiller and Lenard Pingol dressed up as their poets for the final rounds.

“This poem is about the dark life he led,” Pingol said about Edgar Allan Poe’s “Alone.” “And how he was an outsider.”

Sutmiller presented Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.”

She handed out frosted animal cookies in honor of Frost — something that probably didn’t sway votes, but it was a nice touch, said student Dante Huerta, 17.

Sutmiller ended her part of the debate with her own poem about Frost and Poe.

“Poe was depressing and flat, so when you cast your vote, think about that,” she said.

The class erupted in applause.

Sutmiller earned enough points for her portrayals of Frost and William Wordsworth to end up as the sole competitor in the final round.

Instead of debating herself, she got to choose the winning poet.

In what was a shock to many, including Farley, Sutmiller chose Wordsworth.

“He was kind of like a cute, old man, who lived a long time ago, and wrote about his feelings and emotions,” she later explained with a giggle.

Pingol and Sutmiller said they’ve had classes together since kindergarten, and they had fun competing against each other for the Poetry Madness championship.

Both said they’re feeling more confident about the AP literature exam in May.

“It really opened up the world of poetry for us,” he said. “I wasn’t really into poetry before this.”

“This was really a fun way to learn about poetry and learn how to analyze it,” she added.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 lpemberton@theolympian.com @Lisa_Pemberton

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