Riddle Bits

by Kori Linn, WITS Intern

When I first met Rachel Kessler I knew immediately that I wanted to be her intern. She is hip and friendly and has great earrings. Clearly, these things are all important to a poet.

What is also important to a poet is the feel of things. Being in a high school classroom can be a particularly sticky kind of feeling, but with Rachel Kessler, it’s a truly awesome place to be. In a free write, she asks students to describe their favorite color without using its name. I find myself scrambling to write the assignment (and my response) down in my own notebook. I’m a second-year MFA student, mind you, and yet, here I am laughing and learning alongside a room of ninth-graders. If this sounds too precious for you, I must note that students often require reminders about the balance between speaking and silence, but leaning over their shoulders to read things like “I am the smell of electricity” melts my inner disciplinarian.

After the free write, the students read their descriptions to each other, trying to guess each others colors, and then the class broke into small groups, each receiving a few riddles.

At first the students despair. This is hard. They will never get it. Can they have a clue? I insisted they read the riddles many times. I confessed my own lack of prowess in solving riddles. I pointed out that in a riddle a white horse is not necessarily an actual horse. I explained the difference between figurative and literal language. When I said that one riddle’s answer was literally on the page, they didn’t understand what I meant. I still insisted. I walked from group to group. Eventually, they pieced the riddles together. Some groups worked much faster than others. Half of them insisted that the riddles were easy all along, but I relished in the satisfied smiles that revealed how hard they’d been working. After the students had presented and guessed at each other’s riddles and made a great ruckus, it is this joy – this pride of work well done – that stuck with me as the students filed (read: scrambled) out the door.

And so I leave you with this:  what is snarky but sweet, darling and daring, makes you roll your eyes, and yet forces you into caring?

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