By Kathleen Flenniken, WITS Writer-in-Residence
The best way to become a better writer is to read a lot. It makes sense that sometimes I meet a poem that I immediately recognize could fill a whole classroom with smart things to say about how to write. I ran into Bruce Dethlefsen’s poem, “New Moons” (from the June 2014 issue of Hummingbird) at Seattle’s all-poetry bookstore, Open Books. The minute I finished reading it, I wished I had written it. And then, I wished I could write it. And then, I knew it would be a lesson for my fourth graders.
Here is Bruce Dethlefsen’s witty and inspiring poem:
the moon of the burning cold
the slice of ice moon
the peeking moon
the moon of potential
the reunion moon
the moon of dance and play
the moon most beautiful
the angry dog moon
what was that feeling moon
the two faced moon
moon of the closing door
the wall at the end of the world moon
I love to read poems to children and then open the conversation up with the question, “What do you notice?” My students immediately picked up on the way the months in “New Moons” were mash-ups of our everyday, conventional months. Right away, they also saw the possibilities of inventing new ones. It wasn’t easy to categorize the lines that described the moon, but we could all agree that those lines contained the poem’s magic, that something about the names of the months inspired them, that those lines didn’t necessarily need to make perfect sense.
We talked about other categories that could be mashed up. I had a few already started:
Times of day: morning, noon, afternoon, evening, night, dusk, dawn, twilight, sunrise, sunset
Meals: breakfast, snack, lunch, teatime, dinner, midnight snack
Seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall (Autumn), Winter
Moods: happy, angry, sorry, sad, irritated, blue, jealous, silly, serious, shy, embarrassed, afraid, depressed, bored,
School subjects: Arithmetic / Math / Algebra, History, Writing, Reading, Physical Education, Art, Chemistry, Biology, Physics
Languages: Latin, Greek, Spanish, German, French, Mandarin, Farsi, English, Russian, Portuguese, Hungarian, Arabic, Japanese, Tagalog
Styles of potatoes: baked, French fried, boiled, au gratin, hash browns
Donuts: sprinkled, raised, cake, chocolate covered, maple bars, holes, fruit filled
Fruit: apples, strawberries, peaches, apricots, watermelon, blueberries, blackberries, bananas, kiwi, pineapples, oranges, grapefruit, grapes, cherries, persimmons, pomegranates, pears
Vegetables: peas, green beans, carrots, mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, corn, potatoes, rutabagas, kale, chard, lettuce, cucumbers, radishes, turnips, broccoli, brussel sprouts
Musical Instruments: violin, cello, bass, piano, trumpet, saxophone, bassoon, oboe, guitar, trombone, flute, piccolo, clarinet, xylophone, tuba, glockenspiel, accordion, harp, recorder, zither
Street Signs: Stop, Yield, No Parking, Caution, Soft Shoulder, Freeway Entrance, Exit, Transit Only, School Zone
Housing: tepee, yurt, tree house, mansion, castle, cave, hut, colonial, trailer, cape cod, craftsman bungalow, log cabin, mother-in-law, condominium, apartment, tent, cottage, farmhouse
These helped get students’ brains turning. But, as usual, my fourth graders had lots of ideas beyond my initial prompts and even thought about combining lists in ways I hadn’t considered. For ideas about mixing across categories, take special note of Waylon’s mash-ups of hunger and emotions (I confess this hits very close to home), Gabe’s mash-ups of popular culture and vegetables, and Aidan’s mash-ups of pop stars and musical instruments.
I love the way this prompt invites young writers to use their senses of humor in very natural and surprising ways.
Carlyn /New Vegetables
A long, red veggie crunchy and fresh
as Snow White’s apple before the potion.
A tough, lush green food for dinner in shadow skin
like the dark leather on my worn-out coat.
If you slice this neon yellow vegetable your tears
will fall like smooth rain on the silver blade.
My family isn’t fond of this umbrella-shaped mushroom.
But the green tummy-filler matches my taste buds,
like the colors in a sunset.
My dad sautés them with eggs but don’t eat it whole!
These flaky potato-like veggies aren’t tasty if you eat them entirely.
An aqua, freckled berry spicy on a stove for Mom and I to gobble up
till we’re full as a tiger licking her lips.
Hayden /New States
The people who live there can run over 50 mph
Their bodies are made out of squid
Don’t drink a sip from their sippy cup
The people won’t give anything away until it’s
10 years old
Their floor companies are really good
Their heads are made out of chocolate
They miss everything that leaves
Everyone eats ham
It rains 20 hours every day
There are human-eating frogs there, so beware.
Lita /Ways of Change
the waves wash on the sandy beaches
like a leaf in the breeze
Color fills the trees, a brush of air that silences all
The snow falls and there is new life all around
the flowers sprout and bring joy everywhere,
the shouts of voices and music fill the air.
Sofia /Book World
When you’re worried, you go to her.
An English wizard with Egyptian parents.
A glazxy with good and bad fairies.
Judy B. Jones
A silly gilr with two brothers, Stink and Ollie.
Diary of a Wimpy Doll
Greg’s journal about his life as a doll.
Nikki Dorkbreath is a dragon. She writes in a diary.
A cat detective whose partner is a polar bear.
Rima /Time of Day
I can’t wait till Christmas tomorrow.
The sun has not shined at all today
I wonder where noonsun has gone?
I always try to wake up at 8:00
but instead I wake up at noon.
When it is morn I sleep all day.
When it is daw I play all night.
Vedika /FYI I Have Feelings
Keep it up! Keep on making it!
Why did you let Tim play with my Babie?
I know you got more pins down, but I’ll get more down for sure!
I gave my wood blocks to you and you make them in the shape of the White House
Why did you attach a microphone on me while I was singing to myself?
Ah! Yes you can put me in the newspaper.
Gabe /Teenage Mutant Ninja Turnips
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turnips
those veggies sure pack a punch
Sour Rangers and N.C.urger
taking a bite out of crime
a taco with a dream
a dog playing Pokemon
Big Bang Steak
A smart steak
A show with stringy humor
Nati /Months of the Year
The lights go out at
midnight and all spirits
The very chilly wind
takes over the land
and it turns quiet.
The entire world covers
with flowers and piece
flies through the world like
a horse galloping through
The entire universe
covers the planet with snow
all over like an eagle
soaring through the sky
The globe fills with
birds and the sun comes out
like a lake glimmering
through the shadows.
pouring down rain comes
down like a waterfall
flooding the city
Vani /The Fruit Bowl
I’m nice but I have a sour face
I take much pride in eating grapes
A purple outside layer will make you laugh
This will get you to the razziest parties
Your delicious ticket for a black belt
It’s so small and juicy you could eat it in one bite
Alex /Screwed Up Names
my birthday and Christmas at the same time.
stop there’s an exit.
Feel sad about my life.
Running around with shirts without sleeves and shorts shorter than ever before. The hottest time of the year.
something so hard even the teacher can’t figure it out.
Angry at the world but sorry at what I did.
an apple that is banned far away,
a berry from the water’s wave,
a blue banana who feels alone inside,
a fruit from a plum tree,
a plum from rasp bushes in a garden,
a man with a kiwi on his head,
a persimmon from an O’s tree that is shaped like an O,
a cherry on an apricot leaf,
a pineapple on an orange bush,
a fruit from the stars in the sky
Nora /My Instruments
My own boom-box.
Is a golden bird floating through the air.
A place where I die.
Ends up in your cake.
The sound that wakes you up.
Makes a horrible sound.
The state’s capital.
Better not go to school.
Aidan /Crazy Instruments
Low and inappropriate
A high-pitched singer.
A tooting rapper.
A loud comedian
Low and techy
Waylon /Hungry Emotions
Don’t make me angry or I will eat you.
This meal was good so want to go skateboarding?
Don’t say anything! I feel like eating pizza.
“Stop talking to me. Let’s just eat. Got it?”
Why did the turkey not cross the road? Because he didn’t want to be paved over.