Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

Right Poem, Wrong Assignment

April 24, 2018

Today I had my fourth graders write about something small, taken for granted, or unappreciated. We started with a poem I wrote and shared about lowly feet. Then it was time for the kids and me to get cracking.

I meant to do the assignment along with them. I really did. But I couldn’t think of ANYTHING to write. So after a few minutes of being blank (which felt like an eternity) it struck me that perhaps boredom itself goes unappreciated.

In I went to compose a poem elevating boredom through poetry. But then a different poem came out. It’s still one I kind of like, so I’m sharing it here.

The kids still have me on the hook for the real assignment, though.

Boredom

When my pencil
(poised above paper) awaits,
Anxious to do the bidding
Of my master/mind
Yet no command comes
A standoff:
As my hands
(eager to get moving) wonder
What is wrong with
The machine that moves them
And my mind
(unused to blankness) panics
When finding itself
In silence.

So my imagination
(relenting to this break in the action) sighs,
Succumbs to numbness,
Twiddles its thumbs
And waits
For a lost, lonely idea
To find its way
Home.

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More Important Things

April 23, 2018

Once again, I got to enjoy composing alongside my students today. This group of fourth graders was also working on “important” poetry, but we decided on pencils as our object. Here’s my contribution:

The Important Poem

The important thing about a pencil
Is that it is sharp.
It’s long, it’s yellow
And you can twirl it between fingers
If you teach yourself how.
It gets shorter and shorter, especially
When you sharpen it to the perfect point
And blow on it
Because that’s what you do.
And whether it is
Fresh-out-of-the-box-new, or
Worn down to a tiny
Eraserless nub that you
Pinch in your fingertips,
It will still take
All of the pictures
That circle your brain
And give them to the rest of the world.
But the important thing about a pencil
Is that it is sharp.

Important Poetry

April 20, 2018

Once again, my students and I are composing poetry, this time based on Margaret Wise Brown’s The Important Book. It’s such a charming read, and both the kids and I love how Brown takes ordinary things in our lives and sees the poetry within.

The kids wanted to write their poetry today about paper. So, I joined in. It may still be a work in progress, but I thought I’d send it out into the world for now. Have a good read!

The Important Thing

The important thing about paper
Is that it is thin.
We find it in any size
Or color.
We ball it and throw it.
We fold it and tear it.
It carries the weight of words
And stories
And lists
And lives.
But the important thing about paper
Is that it is thin.

Finding Trusted Readers

May 2, 2017
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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…)

Putting Myself Out There: Part 1

April 10, 2017

Oh heavens.

What a slippery slope.

It starts with sharing this video about the typewriter orchestra with my young writers. And then a conversation about how musicians see the music in everything. And how poets see the poetry in everything.

“Mrs. Levin, that would be cool to do.”
“Yeah, it would.”… “Hey…I have an idea. For your homework today I’d like for you to go home and find something that makes music in your house. Experiment with the sounds it makes. Then make a video of yourself with the music you created and share it with me.” (patting my own flexible back)
“Mrs. Levin, will you do it too?”
(putting on big girl pants) “Yep. And I think I know what I’ll do, too.” “Come to think of it (getting big for my britches), I think I’ll do hockey.”

Oh heavens.

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So I made a video. Originally, when I made this video, I was pretty proud of it. I definitely heard the rhythm in my head as I worked to tap out the different sounds with the stick and puck. I took a take and thought, “Hmm. That’s pretty good.”

But to my sons, to whom I showed that video? My teenage, hockey-loving sons? They couldn’t stop giggling at how lame it was. At how, when you look away listen for sounds, it’s just a whole bunch of random whacking noises. They just kept listening. And giggling.

And OH. They are SO right.

Here’s the link to the video. Go ahead and watch once, then look away and giggle while you hear the random whacking. (It’s OK, my big girl pants are still on.)

That got me thinking. How many times does this happen for us, or for our students? We make an effort – perhaps it’s a solid effort, perhaps it’s just a first effort. But we’re pleased with it, and we think it’s good enough.

Then we put it out into the world and realize (rolling our pride into a ball and shoving it into our back pocket) that we were wrong. That maybe we could have -should have- done a better, more mindful job.

I am going to share this video with my students for that VERY reason. They need to see that even grown-ups sometimes need a kick in the pants to do a better job.

Keep your eyes peeled for video, Part 2. As for me, I’ve clearly got stuff to work on.

When the Writing Gets Tough

April 2, 2017

First of all, happy poetry month!

Those of you who read my blog know that I enjoy writing alongside my kids. I like to share my work and my struggles with them.

The week before break, I asked the kids to take on an ambitious poem: to title and write a piece about an important person in their lives, but to do it only by describing something in nature. The reader must be able to make the connection through the text.

Which worked out great, until I hit the source of inspiration for my poem. My brother. My brother, who died two years ago this month. My brother, who sometimes makes his presence known through dreams, or ladybugs, or rainbows, or just the random odd moment that leaves me unable to catch my breath.

It was heavy lifting. I wanted to push this poem to the side, especially when working with students at the same table. I just…couldn’t ignore the need to write. Below is what came to me. It’s ragged around the edges, and it wants more attention than I’m giving it right now, but here it is.

 

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What to do
When the poem choosing me
Stills my pen?

If I could, I would
Tell them
Of my brother the rainbow
The smile-bringer
The color-giver
The everything-is-ok-er

But then, I must
Tell them
Of my brother the rainbow
Who went away
Who disappeared too soon
Who only comes to me in the glints, glimpses
I’m ready to see.

I think their hearts
Could absorb
Those droplets of grief
But I worry
That one moment they
(Remembering my rainbow)
Look upon their brother
Or sister
Or mirror
And see
That they, too
Are just rainbows.

Using Images to Establish Mood

March 19, 2017

A little while ago, my fourth graders and I began to pair poetry and art to show how words and images are powerful creators of emotional imagery.

First, we talked about art. What mood do artists create, and what techniques do they use? Color? Light? Shade? Brush strokes? Position and treatment of the subjects? It was wonderful to see how clear and articulate the kids were when it came to discussing their thoughts.

From there, it wasn’t a far leap to talk about poetry. Just as artists use their craft to fill viewers with emotion, poets also have tools to accomplish the same task with readers. Instead of using brush strokes and shading, however, writers use tone, figurative language and descriptive vocabulary.
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To further drive the lesson home, we examined Albert Bierstadt’s Cathedral Rocks, Yosemite (1870). Each student reflected on the emotions the painting stirred up within themselves. Our goal was to make our readers feel those same emotions though poetry.

For me? I did the same. My writing began with a brainstorm of the emotions this piece of art brought out in me, then a poem to (hopefully!) invoke those emotions in my reader. I started with a draft, showed students how I edit for word choice and clarity, then asked them for further feedback. It got messy!

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I wound up with the following poem. Enjoy.

Cathedral Rocks, Yosemite

Sometimes my eyes don’t see it
Through the brush,
The fog,
The trees.
But my heart
Remembers it is there.
The mountain lays in wait,
Its sun-washed steep face solitary as the journey itself.
My legs demand respite from the climb.
My soul answers a higher calling:
To sing from the heights,
To discover the next summit.
It wills my feet onward.

Onward.

Post-script: My students’ poetry was absolutely FABULOUS. Both they and their parents were floored to see what their talent and creativity could accomplish. Here’s to more amazing writing!

When in Rome

March 17, 2017

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Whenever I assign my kids creative writing, I like to join along. For starters, it helps keep my own creative juices flowing. More importantly, I want my students to see me as a writer, right along with them. I want them to see what successes struggles I encounter as I work to improve my craft.

Today, we had fun with poetry. The teachers are having a staff lunch on Tuesday (World Poetry Day!), and I asked my kids to write food poems to serve as placemats. We grabbed the construction paper, set out some markers, stuck on some cool tunes, and we had ourselves a writer’s workshop! The two poems below are my contributions. Not sure I’d call them exceptionally deep or earth-moving, but they were fun to write. (And, I hope, fun to read.)

The World in a Fruit Bowl

Joy: an apple
Upon first bite
When tongue
And teeth
And tastebuds
Find their perfect
Crunchtartsweet.

Apprehension: blueberries
All together,
Baby and granddaddy,
Nestled in a bowl.
Sweet and tangy?
Achingly sour?
One way to find out.

Despair: that melon
You picked out the other day
That felt perfect
And smelt perfect
Only to reveal
Its darker self
As sandpaper
And mush.

I Won’t Do It (And You Can’t Make Me)

I don’t fall for those famous food lies,
“Open your mouth and close your eyes.”

Or that phrase guaranteed to sicken:
“Try it! It tastes like chicken.”

Another thing to make me say “Ew,”
“Drink it! Surprise at the bottom for you!”

And the best way to get me to fight?
“No dessert ’til you take that last bite!”

On Carving Out Space

April 20, 2016

In my day, for breath

After the priorities

Have been shuffled through —
A release, perhaps

Of expectation, or the

Desire for different
Such is the promise

Of a few moments caught at

The end of long days. 

Mother’s Lament (NaPoWriMo Day 9)

April 9, 2013

I can taste it,
Like the first bite of a hot-fudge sundae
Or a gooey, cheesy pizza
So delightful
Rich
Decadent,
Yet well-deserved.

I long for it
From deep within my bones
I hunger
I ache

For a
Good
Night’s
Sleep