Friday, August 10, 2007

Using Insightful Poetry in English as a Foreign Language Classes

The Poem Analyzed and Explained

In the post entitled, “A Perfect English Writing Lesson”, we looked at writing exercises which promoted production of authentic language in English as a foreign language (EFL) learners. An alternate writing exercise consisting of writing a poem about the city, region or country where the learner lives was also broached. The following poem was an example.

“The Feria de Cali”

Waves of December heat
are here to meet and greet
those “Gringos” who dare
our Feria to share,
while dancing to a Salsa beat.

Parades of slender, bronzed beauties abound,
as classic antique cars are found

In ten days the Feria ends
with sugar cane sweet tastes
and aguardiente-filled friends

You’ll sadly leave less heavy
than a pink and green ’57 Chevy.

Admittedly, Shakespeare it’s not, but the poetry writing process worked for the learners.
This poem is actually more insightful that it first appears though. It is based on featured activities of the annual Cali Festival held in Cali, Colombia.

Stanza Types

The stanzas shift between three verse grouping types.

Couplet – two lines that rhyme one after the other, as in this excerpt:

“Parades of slender, bronzed beauties abound,
as classic antique cars are found“

Tercet – three lines that can rhyme in different ways as in this excerpt:

“In ten days the Feria ends
with sugar cane sweet tastes
and aguardiente-filled friends”

The first stanza (poem paragraph) has a mixed rhyming pattern of AABBA where the first and second lines rhyme, the third and fourth lines rhyme and the last (fifth) line rhymes with the first and second lines.

The Cali Festival is held for ten days, from December 22nd to January 2nd. “Gringos” refers to the predominance of North American visitors to Colombia with Cali generally being referred to as the “Capital of Salsa music”. Beauty pageants are held throughout most of Colombia’s 32 departments prior to the November crowning of “Miss Colombia”. Beauty Queens then reign over a variety of events for the ensuing year. Miss Valle del Cauca presides over the festivities during Cali’s Festival and those of other towns in this department.

The region around Cali is known for its sugar cane fields. The juice from sugar cane is used to produce a clear, rum distillate called “aguardiente” or “hard water”. It takes notoriously little of this strong liquor to intoxicate even the sturdiest of souls. Finally, due to the free-flowing food and liquor most people pack on not less than a few “unwanted” pounds during the festival season.

If you’d like to brush up just a bit on your poetry writing skills, please see the two additional articles, “How to Evoke Imagery, Emotions and Ideas in Writing Poetry That Captures Your Readers Imagination2 and “How to Write Poems That Capture the Heart and Imagination of Your Readers” to help get you and your English language learners started.

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an English language teaching and learning expert author and university professor in Cali, Colombia. For more information on entering into or advancing in the fascinating field of ELT send for his no-cost pdf Ebook, “If You Want to Teach English Abroad, Here’s What You Need to Know”, send an e-mail with "free ELT Ebook" in the subject line. For comments, questions, requests, to receive more information or to be added to his free TESOL articles and teaching materials mailing list, e-mail:

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