Homeschooling Poetry Contest

I’m not going to have my sons involved in this. The main reason I won’t bother having the boys submit is the rule: “No involvement or assistance of other parties, including but not limited to brainstorming, editing, or proof reading, is permissible.” That means they’d have to want to submit. They don’t.

I noticed, however, because I am going to be teaching homeschool kids poetry next fall. I looked at it to see what the deal was. Of course it will be too late by next fall, but maybe in the spring I will teach it again. Who knows?

HSLDA is sponsoring the poetry contest. Each entry costs $15 to submit, up to five submissions. (The cost is $10 if you are a member of HSLDA.)

Since I am going to be teaching poetry, I thought I would look at their categories.

Category 1: Terza Rima
Theme: “Light”

Terza Rima is a traditional form of poetry with series of tercets (grouping of three lines) with interlocking rhymes which give a strong feel of continuity. They are formed in the pattern aba, bcb, cdc, ded, etc. Each line labeled B rhymes with other B lines, each line labeled C rhymes with C lines, and so on.

Dante, the Italian author of the Inferno, is credited for inventing this poetic form. It is though to reflect the unity and the threesome of the Trinity. Other poets such as Milton, Shelley, and Byron also employed this form.

Submitted poems in this category must be 15 lines: 5 tercets of three lines each. You may write anything with the theme given—it is broad enough to give students a wide range of possible topics.

An example of this form is Ode to the West Wind by Shelley. Notice the rhyming scheme that follows the terza rima pattern. It helps to mark the rhymes “a,” “b,” etc. to see how the scheme works.
Other poems to study:
Percy Bysshe Shelley: The Triumph of Life
Robert Frost: Acquainted with the Night
W.H. Auden: The Sea and the Mirror

Category 2: English/Shakespearean Sonnet
Theme: “Change”

The English sonnet is a 14-line poem; each line is written in iambic pentameter. Pentameter means the line has five groupings of rhythmic syllables called feet. In this case the feet are iambic, which means that they are composed of a short syllable and then a long (or emphasized) syllable. So the line is composed of ten syllables and follows this pattern: short long / short long / short long / short long / short long. An example of a line of iambic pentameter is “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield,” from Tennyson’s Ulysses.

Sonnets are arranged in three quatrains (groups of four lines in which the first and third lines rhyme, and the second and fourth lines rhyme) followed by a final couplet (two rhyming lines). The rhyme scheme, then, is abab, cdcd, efef, gg. Note: A line is not necessarily a complete sentence or clause, and a quatrain is not necessarily only one sentence.

Generally, a sonnet presents a conflict, which is resolved in the final couplet. One way to do this is to have each quatrain present a distinct point of view or a different level of knowledge about the subject, pausing between each, with the final couplet presenting a practical resolution to or a deeper understanding of the subject. Many times, the couplet will use words from the earlier quatrains in order to give a clearer sense of closure.

You may write anything with the theme given—it is broad enough to give students a wide range of possible topics.

Samples of English sonnets are widely available in anthologies, libraries, and the Internet. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some good sonnets to start with:

Shakespeare: No. 18 Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
John Milton: On His Blindness
John Keats: Bright Star
John Donne: At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners, Blow
Robert Frost: Putting in the Seed

Note that while following the form is a large part of what gives a poem its beauty, poets will sacrifice exact adherence to the form if it suits their purpose. The poetic decision to do something slightly different for one or two lines is legitimate one, but the pattern of the form should always be discernable.

I’ve taught sonnets to college students. I think I’ll skip that form for the younger kids. But the Terza Rima sounds like something the kids who are better at poetry might be able to do by the end of the class. I think I will try that with them.