For middles grades and elementary: Two poems by Michael Bazzett

Today’s post is by guest author Charles Ellenbogen, who is in his 27th year of teaching. He teaches high school in Cleveland, Ohio, and has recently published a teaching memoir, This Isn’t the Movies: 25 Years in the Classroom.

For middle grades (7-9)

“The Empty City” by Michael Bazzett

From The Echo Chamber by Michael Bazzett, Fall 2021



Have the students number the lines of the poem. Read it out loud. Check to make sure students understand all of the vocabulary.

Have them read it to themselves.

Poetry Terms

Check on students’ understanding of tone in poetry – the tone is the poet’s attitude toward the poem’s speaker, the reader, and subject matter

Ask: What do you think the tone of the poem is and what makes you say so?

3Students will, at first, likely think it’s silly, a kind of anti-Horton Hears a Who. Ask them why. Maybe it’s what the speaker lies awake worrying about. Maybe the rhyme scheme contributes to that initial response.

Check on students’ understanding of diction in poetry – word choice

Ask them to underline or highlight all of the words and phrases that have to do with emptiness – empty (2x), mostly clean, few, far between, no cars are parked, abandoned

Ask again: What do you think the tone of the poem is and what makes you say so?

  • What about the juxtaposition of what he wants, nature (wilderness, crows) and what he gets (a city)?

Juxtaposition: two things are placed side-by-side for a purpose

  • He’s gone to a doctor in the first place. That doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything wrong. Still, we don’t return to the doctor. Instead, we get the speaker lying awake (presumably at night) worrying about the change of seasons, the move from summer to winter? What might that change symbolize?

Symbolism: when something stands for itself and something else


Why the word “rush” in line 8? What gives the speaker the impression that the residents were in a hurry? This line reminds me of the Roanoke Colony or what is now called Teotihuacan. Why are we fascinated by places that are left behind?

Writing Opportunities

Analytical – What’s the tone of the poem? Support your response with evidence from the poem.

Creative – Write (and illustrate) a poem about what kind of place the doctor would find inside you.


For elementary (K-4)

“The Man with No Mouth”

Michael Bazzett

from The Interrogation Milkweed Editions Fall 2017


Read the first two lines of the poem out loud as dramatically as possible. Ask students to predict what the exciting and happy announcement might be.

Read the rest of the poem out loud. Ask them if they guessed correctly what the announcement was. Repeat the last line again and ask students to perform it themselves – pretend to have a “keep a secret like a stone.”

If students want to know, give them help with vocabulary – mundane, erasure, caverns. But it’s not necessary. The point is in the title.

Possible Responses

Have students draw a picture of the man with no mouth when he’s keeping a secret.

Have students write (and illustrate) a poem called, “The __________ with no __________.”

Examples: The Bird with No Wings, The Dog with No Bark, The School with No Teachers, etc.

More posts for middle grades:

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