How Much Trouble Can You Get In?

How Much Trouble Can You Get In?

by Jeanine Walker

“Hello, little mice,” J.W. Marshall addressed a 4th grade class at Lafayette Elementary yesterday. “Hello, ogre,” he encouraged them to respond, and they did.

Two days before his appearance in SAL’s Poetry Series alongside fellow poet Christine Deavel, who is J.W.’s wife and co-owner of Open Books: A Poem Emporium in Wallingford, J.W. spent over an hour with a group of twenty 4th grade poets. Just coming off a 9-week poetry residency with WITS writer-in-residence Karen Finneyfrock, the kids were primed with poetry practice and tools, and J.W. had them quickly engaged.

That “might be poetry,” J.W. told the kids of the mice/ogre address. He compared poetry to math: “In poetry, 1 + 3 might equal horses.” He went on to suggest that we can “make music” with poetry; we can make “wonderful silliness, dramatic action.”

J.W.’s warmth and kind attention saw that almost all of the students elected to read a poem out loud in front of the class, and he responded to each in turn with praise, questions, and suggestions. “Who’s going to hurt a piece of fruit?” was one of J.W.’s questions, and ten hands shot up. When writing about a color, J.W. suggested, try describing it using another color, “something that seems incorrect.”

ImageOne student remarked about the difficulty of poetic constraints, and J.W. responded a classtime later by assigning a poem with some rules, a letter written to an inanimate object, with three lines. “Next time you get an assignment you think is too narrow,” J.W. advised, “try to follow it and break it at the same time. How much trouble can you get in?”

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