American Odyssey

American Odyssey

 A Poetry Unit

Odyssey:  an extended wandering or journey
-- Webster's New College Dictionary

Join your classmates to go on a journey around America, learning about its poets and their poems


Welcome to American Odyssey, an opportunity to study 6 American poets in depth.  For this unit, you will work with 3 or 4 students in your class and form an imaginary traveling team who will explore America learning about  these poets.  Your group will stop to make 6 small group presentations  along the  journey's way to share with  classmates what you are learning.



  • Your team should first look through your American literature books and select one poet of interest to you.  Each of the other 5 groups in class will do the same.  This list of 6 poets will become the foundation of the rest of the unit.  You will compile research on the "5 P's" on your group's chosen poet:
    • the poems written by the poet
    • the personality of the poet
    • the places of the poet--how did his/her  settings or environments, both time and place,  influence each of the poet ?
    • the passions of the poet's lives--subjects? hobbies? jobs held? or was poetry the only passion?
    • the people of the poet's lives--was a poet inspired by someone else's work?  Who did the poet interact with? Many poets share their work with a community of other writers or significant people in their lives.


1.  Once your small group is formed, choose your personas--how your group will travel through the United States to study about your poets.  Your group may decide to travel as train hobos ala Steinbeck or  in a unique car, truck, or van suited to your group's tastes. Consider some of the following American vehicles for your group's use:

  • 1959 pink Cadillac convertible with fins
  • an ice cream truck that plays "My Favorite Things" when it turns a corner
  • a black hearse, most recently used as a Godfather's Pizza delivery vehicle
  • steel gray truck formerly used as a Brinks security vehicle
  • 2 tone Chevy Bel-Air with fuzzy dice hanging from the rear-view mirror
  • Bookmobile on the lam from the Jefferson County Library
  • Oscar Mayer Weinermobile
  • double-decker bus last used for giving tours of New Orleans
  • yellow Checkered Cab
  • Batmobile
  • Partridge Family bus
  • 1996 Chevy S-10 pick-up splashed with mud 
  • Hummer
  • orange Plymouth Duster
  • 1955 white Thunderbird with candy apple red interior
  • 1980 full-size station wagon with faux wood panels
  • a set of Harleys with sidecars
  • cab from an 18-wheeler
  • reconditioned US Postal Service local delivery truck with steering wheel on the right side of the vehicle
  • Amphicar (half car/half boat)
  • a set of COWasaki motorcycles

You might choose to travel in an old by-plane (well, the seating would be tight) or a World War I fighter plane.  Your transportation mode needs to have a uniquely American flavor to it and reflect your group's personalities somehow.  Find a picture in a book, magazine, or on the internet of your group's vehicle.

Larry Fuente's Cowasaki 

2.  Make a flag or pennant to take along on your odyssey.  Each group chooses its favorite poet and makes a pennant with the poet's name and at least six symbols of his or her life. Since this pennant will be seen in public, take time to make it look professional: clip art, very neat printing, color, photos, your poet's name in large, clear letters. These pennants will reside on the classroom wall.

3. In class, check the presentation chart to find out which days your group will present and about the presentation requirements each day.

4.  Make a map of the places you'll visit on your American Odyssey.  Starting from Birmingham, calculate how your group would get to the hometown or primary city of residence for your poet.  If your poet moved or traveled a great deal, you may have several places to map out.  On some white space on your map, add the drawing or photo of your team's vehicle and a picture of your group, dressed for the journey.  See Mrs. Adams for a camera. 

Check the internet and try to find out information about the primary city of residence.  Does the town have a special library or museum in featuring the poet's work?  If so, send request some materials be sent to you to share with the class. Some folks actually take time out on vacations to visits the homes and museums of poets and writers.

5.  Before you begin your journey across America learning about your poet, be ready to present your pennant, your map, and a group-written poem about your team and their unusual vehicle.  Warming up your sharp-as-an-eagle poetic eyesight, please write your poem in ballad form and include alliteration, personification, a rhyming couplet, and a metaphor in your poem.  Check out the class web page on ballads and how to write them.

5.  You will be teaching the class about the poet and his/her poems.  Each group member should read about the poet's life from a different source and report  their findings on the front and back of a 5" x 7" card. Include bibliographic information about the sources.  

6.  On 6 days agreed upon by the class, each group will "teach" a poem to the class.  Each day's presentations will require a different type of effort on the group's part.  

Need more help? Read questions and answers from fellow students below. If you're question hasn't already been asked, ask it now.

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