AP Lit’s first ever Poetry Night was a wild success


Alex Smith

The senior AP Lit students on poetry night

In the midst of the perfect blowout for her hair, AP Literature teacher Lisa Penninga invented a perfect way to challenge her class in an immersive poetry project resulting in poetry night.

“Actually, I was blow-drying my hair [when I thought of the idea],” Penninga said. “All my good ideas come on when I’m sitting there monotonously blow-drying my hair.”

Her project was to create a way that all of her 119 students and their families would be able to see each other’s work because the class was such a cohesive group.

“They’re all friends,” Penninga said, “and I just think it’s such a cohesive group of seniors this year and that it would be fun to see them all together because they all come to visit each other in my room during different hours. So, I thought, ‘how nice it would be for their families to see what they’ve done, as well as have each other see their work?’”

Each of her students was tasked with choosing a collection of poetry, studying it, annotating different poems, writing an essay on one of them, and then studying the poet, the background, and why the poet has chosen to write that collection. They each put it together on a poster or in a presentation at a gallery walk in the school’s media center.

Penninga thought that each project having a MOTWAAW (meaning of the work as a whole) was prevalent in the conception of this project in attempts to keep the project and all of the pieces it contained uniform. 

For senior Ian Mahoney, Robert Frost and nature is where he drew inspiration.

“Robert Frost writes a lot of poetry about nature and growth,” Ian said. “Not always positive, but showing the negative of both the path about life through nature.”

But, not all of the students used similar topics and influences; while Ian kept his more general, his classmate senior Val Garza took a more personal route.

“I was choosing between two books,” Val said, “and the original was a lot happier, just touched the surface, and wasn’t very deep. This one spoke to me more about where I am in senior year and in life in general.”

Influenced by the suggestion of a friend, Val chose the fourth in the Pillow Thoughts collection to deeper connect with the contents of the story.

“[The book] is called Stitching the Soul,” Val said, “it is mainly based on rebuilding yourself and really learning to love yourself and teach yourself how to love being alone.”

In this depth of option and creativity, it created a multitude of projects pulling from the same rubric, yet vastly different in their results. Poetry night offered the ideal opportunity for students to showcase their collection of work and why it stands out.

Regardless of the topic, this project was critical in not only strengthening students’ collegiate writing skills but also in allowing students to celebrate learning and showcase their skills. 

“I think it’s important to just celebrate the joy of learning and to be able to see how talented our students at FHC are,” Penninga said. “I think it was kind of cool for them to see just how people took the same rubric and changed it to their own uniqueness.”

I think it’s important to just celebrate the joy of learning and to be able to see how talented our students at FHC are

— Lisa Penninga

In her efforts, it seems students gained just that and more. 

After delving into the literature Ian focused on, he was grateful for the freedom to further explore poetry because he found his previous schooling limited his exposure to the art. 

“I think this is an important project because poetry is so fascinating,” Ian said. “Sometimes, we don’t really get to read it out because it’s not like a book, and I think we should immerse ourselves in poetry more because it’s such a beautiful art form.”

Similarly, Val agreed that because we focus so little on poetry, this project offered a time to discover more about that type of literature.

“I think it was pretty important because we don’t do anything with poetry,” Val said. “We learned about it like a week in sophomore year, and we really got to dive into different types of poetry and literary devices within poetry. It’s the first time we have all really learned about poetry in that way.”

Because of the night’s wild success, Penninga plans on continuing the project into the coming years in hopes to introduce more students to poetry and allow them to truly understand it as the students were this year.

Surely, the project will continue to strike a chord with upcoming FHC students as it resonates so deeply with this year’s class. 

“My favorite part was finding other poets and other poems that were so similar to mine, but also so different,” Ian said. “They connected the same themes, but they all have their own separate style. Really, life is all connected. There are so many different themes about life that you can write about and express, but overall, at the root of it, everything’s the same.”