Updated date:

Boredom Be Gone: An English Teacher’s Guide to Keeping Learning Alive- Lesson 6


Innovative Poetry

Contrary to what you might have heard, a poem does not have to rhyme in order to “qualify” as a poem. In fact, some poets are better at having their voices heard and their messages understood if they write in free verse rather than using a rhyming format.

The poetry of ee cummings provides an example of innovative poetry at its best,

old age sticks

by ee cummings

old age sticks

up Keep



youth yanks them



cries No

Tres) & (pas)

youth laughs


old age

scolds Forbid

den Stop


n’t Don’t

&)youth goes

right on


owing old

You might be saying to yourself right now, “What the heck is that? It sure doesn’t look like a poem!”. You’re right: it certainly does not look anything like a traditional poem... it is innovative poetry.

Cummings uses visual imagery to Create a vivid picture of the point he’s trying to make in his poetry. He also does not follow the accepted rules of punctuation and capitalization. Why do you think he ends line one with the word “sticks” rather than the word “up”? Do you think perhaps that he’s trying to emphasize the fact that older people usually are stubborn...that they “stick to their guns “?

Why is “keep off“ capitalized, with “keep” in one line and “off“ in another? Maybe the capitalization shows that they (old people) really mean it, and the fact that the word “off” stands by itself could mean (and this is just the way I see it) that something is a bit off. Why is there an ampersand (&) rather than the word “and”? It could be because it represents actions that are ongoing.

In the second stanza (yes, cummings’ “stanzas” are innovative, too), alliteration (“youth yanks”) is used to further emphasize the continuing action, and the verb “yanks” emphasizes the fact that young people can be adamant and don’t let anything slow them down. Note that old age (I.e., old people) “cries” “no”...not “yells”or “screams“, or ”shouts”. Why do you think that is? Do you think the word “cry” makes old people seem more sad than angry? Now consider the word “no”...is that a sentiment you often hear from old people?

Your Turn

Now that we’ve explicated The first two stanzas of “old age sticks”, let’s see what you can do with the rest of it. I’ll help you out with some questions. ( Keep this in mind: when explaining the meaning of a poem, there is no wrong answer as long as you can justify with good, solid reasons the way you’ve interpreted it.)

1. Explain how the last word of the second stanza “no”) carries into the third stanza.

2. Why does Cummings use Tres) & (pas) in stanza three rather than the word “trespass”?

3. What verb in the third stanza refers to young people? Why is it especially appropriate considering the verb used to refer to older people in stanza 2?

4. List the verbs in the fourth stanza.

5. Why is the ampersand (&) used again in the last stanza? (Hint: remember why it was used in the first stanza.)

6. in the last stanza, “gr” and “owing” have two different meetings. What do you think they are?(hint: There’s a reason why they appear on two different lines,)

7. When taken by itself, “gr” is a figure of speech. What is it? (Think of a sound.)

8. In a sentence or two, put the poem in your own words.

Answers will appear at the end of lesson seven.


Answers to Lesson 5

Your answers might be different. as long as you’ve given good, solid reasons for your answers, they are acceptable.

1.The poet probably wanted to emphasize how unblemished the hockey rink is at the beginning of a game.

2. personification (“air bites”)

3. swims, skims, veers

4. The speaker (the hockey player) tries to hit the puck but misses.

5. alliteration (“sharp, steel-sharp”)

6. metaphor (“needles of breathing”)

7. They “converge“, or come together

8. metaphor (comparing the players to electrons)

9. alliteration ( “pull of the puck”)

10. alliteration (“fast, fierce”)

11. alliteration, simile (“ sticks”, “snap”, “scent”(

“like teeth of wolves”)

12. One team finally hits the puck and scores a goal.

13. tense

Related Articles