Finding Trusted Readers

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Kids discussing work with trusted readers.

Sometimes, I don’t have all the answers.

(Whaaaaatttt? Stop the presses! And don’t tell my children.) Naw, just kidding.

But really. I know I’m not the only one who gets blind to my own writing, unable to either see or overcome the shortcomings of my craft. That’s when I need somebody else’s eyes on my work.

My fourth graders have been composing poetry for several (glorious!) weeks now, and the time has come for them to begin putting together their collected works. In addition to crafting numerous poems, they are setting about the task of choosing the poems that best belong in their collection and refining those poems to be publication-ready.

That’s where the “other eyes” idea comes in. We talked about how important it is to have a circle of trusted readers we can go to, and how we need different types of readers depending on what feedback we want:
-buddies who can give us validation and cheer us on
-writers whose craft we admire
-people whose perspectives are different, and sometimes contrary to our own.

At some point, we need all of these people in our support network. So my kids put together their lists of trusted readers. But they voiced that they weren’t quite ready for having these (sometimes tricky) conversations completely on their own. That’s where they needed support.

Enter a pre-reading slip to help guide conversation between poet and trusted reader. It allows the writer to express what they’re trying to do with that particular piece, gives the reader a sense of what to look for, and specifies if the poet simply wants feedback or actual suggestions.

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Notes from a conversation about my poem. I’ve got work to do!

I modeled conversations about my poetry with a (thankfully, willing!) volunteer from class, expressing my purpose for writing and entertaining suggestions from my reader. I got some great ideas that helped my poem come closer to the vision I had in my head. And, from what I can tell with the conversations I’ve seen around the room, the students are getting there too.

Next up? We’ll do some training in how to frame difficult conversations. This is, as I so often like to put it, a GOOD problem to have. What do we say to a poet when we don’t understand what they’re trying to say, or if we don’t think a poem is quite ready? Knowing how to tackle these “speed bumps” is both a literary and a life skill.

And, if you’ve made it this far, I suppose I’ll let you read the Golden Shovel poem I wrote and worked on in front of the students.

Dawn (after Byrd Baylor)

Morning. Stillness all
Around as I
Nest my toes into the dewy grass. They know
The cool earth is
Their home, their true grounding. Suddenly
Light shifts, wind stirs. I
Sense a wakening that wasn’t
My own, and it wasn’t the
Earth’s. It could only
Be coming from the one
Mourning dove, with its soulful, solitary singing.

April 2017

(post-script: I didn’t notice, when writing this poem, that the first and last lines of the poem matched. It’s a nice effect, I think. Let’s just call that a happy accident…)

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