Archive for poetry

Window…

Posted in Writer Posts with tags , , on June 30, 2015 by writersintheschools

By Vicky Edmonds, WITS Writer-in-Residence

***

When we sit down to write we are writing a window into midair and then opening it and looking through. We can look outside of ourselves into different places in the world that exist or don’t exist, or we can look inside ourselves, where the air is sweet and every realm of possibility is also waiting for us. Neither is greater than or less than the other, both allow us to see things we’ve never seen before, but going inside – that’s where I want to go. I want to walk down every hallway that exists in me, I want to be in every room before I don’t live in this house anymore, and I want to bring every beautiful thing that’s in there back out into the world and somehow leave them as gifts before I go.

When children pick up a pencil I can almost hear the drawing of the frame beginning, and I can hear the pulleys and the weights behind the frame that will almost make it effortless for them to open and go through.

I give them instructions… “This is a simile.” “This is how you write details of imagery.” I make little templates like blueprints where they practice, filling in the blanks to see how it feels. It’s almost like an art class. We put down the paper and show them the blue, green, pink, then something catches inside them that makes them gravitate to that color and that paintbrush. We have never really known what causes that choice, only that when we let it happen we are amazed to watch the results. All artwork has this effect on us. We try putting it down but it keeps calling us. It takes different forms, but whatever we seem to make (or love in someone else’s work) shows part of us back to ourselves that we couldn’t have seen without that mysterious mirror.

So there they are, 30 children in a room, all with paper in front of them, pencil in midair, and I try to help them find the window so they know it’s there. Underneath logic, underneath expectations or grades, lies an entry point to their own truth that only they can find. I try to take away any worries… tell them they never have to share. I want to make this a place where they can come and explore any time they want to. But there is this paper calling, like white walls they’ve never been able to see through before, and the pencil is the tool that cuts through the sheetrock, and suddenly they can see more… and then they can see more…

***

Feelings Poempermission to tell the truth

[He said he couldn’t think of anything to write, that his mind was just blank. So I asked him to write about ‘blank’. He couldn’t believe that was allowed.]

My mind is blank, fleeting of thoughts, ideas, just blank.
The writing is not singing to me, it is not resonating
with excitement, eager to tell me the words.
No inspiration, no spark, just emptiness.
Looking for the components, the parts required to write,
looking for the key that I am so clearly missing.
Lost, searching to no avail,
trying to find the words on the page that fit.
Then I realize, I have already found them.

Kai Brook,
8th Grade

***

Apology Poemfinding all the unspoken regrets
that have been caught in our throats, just under our breath

[Her teacher told me that she had been sad for a long time because her friend had moved away and she couldn’t find the words to talk about it. But there was another friend who was trying to comfort her, and she found the words to say everything to her.]

Dear Isabella,
I’m sorry for being mean to you when I’m sad or mad.
I was like dark clouds storming at you.
I was like 1000 pounds hurting you,
being mean to you, pushing you away when I really needed help.
I want to be more like soda and popcorn
at a movie, nice and funny. Will you please forgive me?
Yes       Yes       Yes       or No       (please circle)
Of course I’ll forgive you.
You may have pushed me away,
but we were only an inch away
in my heart.

Bella Sanborn,
3rd grade

***

Nature Personificationbeing grateful for the gifts so generously given

[I love it when you get to see them watching the world through the window.]

The rain rushes
to help plants and grass and flowers grow.
Rain is water rushing to help.
The rain whispers a rain song.
The rain reaches for my hand.
The rain sings the song softly,
and the rain dances with me.

Desmond Thompson,
2nd grade

***

Inquiry & Passion Poemsinking deep into something they’re passionate about and then finding all the questions that call to them

[I loved that he found the words to describe his love for this.]

History

Can you hear it? That sound of knowledge and teaching?
Can you feel it? The touch of a reassuring hand spinning you in the right direction?
Can you smell it? That old, musty stench of history and a story never heard?
This is learning, the love of knowing more than before.
This is the teaching of worlds long gone by.
This is the force that keeps dragging you back for more.
This is an adventure, an always exciting plot.
This is history, the never ending story.

Isaiah Lenoue,
7th Grade

***

Invisible Beauties Poemfinding the unseen qualities inside us that can shine so brightly inside that they can help us find our way

[And when you’re through the window, when you’re in the inside place, all the instructions disappear, and you can see everything…]

My voice is like
a bright silver arrow
racing toward the target of my life,
never stopping
till I stop pulling back
the bow of my spirit.

Abigail Peterson,
2nd grade

***

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Writing in the Dark

Posted in Writer Posts with tags , , , , on May 12, 2015 by writersintheschools

By Samar Abulhassan, WITS Writer-in-Residence

     “Black silk, shelter me.
     I need
     more of the night before I open
     eyes and heart to illumination. I must still
     grow in the dark like a root
     not ready, not ready at all.” 

               -Denise Levertov

     I must write the same poem over and over,
     for an empty page is the white flag of their surrender.

     If I speak for them, I must walk on the edge
     of myself, I must live as a blind man

     who runs through rooms without touching the furniture.

                -Ilya Kaminsky

Teaching artists often have a handful of foolproof writing lessons on hand. For myself, I can usually trust that if I hand a young writer a cobalt, sunset-orange or sea green paint swatch and ask a row of questions meant to de-familiarize a color (perhaps supplemented by Federico Garcia Lorca’s green winds, or Dottie Lasky’s green secrets), the results are vibrant and unexpected. I have always loved films beaming with saturated colors and poems that heighten seeing. I have also always been in love with nighttime and writing born out of “darkness.” One night, on a weeklong writing retreat this past February at Friday Harbor Labs, I walked into town along a pitch-dark path lined with madronas, feeling my way through the cool dark. I emerged startlingly nourished by trail’s end: I was almost sad to see the street lamps.

This year in several classes at B.F. Day and the Hutch School, I hoped to gently nudge us all toward an intimacy of writing meant to record the giddiness and terror of stumbling. As the end of this school year nears, one of my favorite after-images of teaching was witnessing a sea of open faces, eyes closed, pen moving across paper. Asking students to close their eyes (blindfolds work great too) I invite students to allow dream logic to reign over waking logic on the white page, for an allotted amount of time, in the safe container of classroom. I reminded students to welcome the private experience, although sharing, like always, was welcome.

Before we begin, I dim the shades, turn off the classroom lights, and I read them Denise Levertov’s wonderful poem, “Writing in the Dark” as an invitation. Here’s an excerpt: “Keep writing in the dark: a record of the night, or words that pulled you from the depths of unknowing, words that flew through your mind, strange birds crying their urgency with human voices, or opened as flowers of a tree that blooms only once in a lifetime: words that may have the power to make the sun rise again.”

Students write for ten minutes, with felt-tip pens, inside a quiet hum. Some students feel immense freedom during this experiment; other writers feel uncertain and anxious. Perhaps both. Sometimes I also read them Levertov’s poem “With Eyes at the Back of our Heads,” offering the first line as a launching point for their own excavations. Often the results are beautifully raw – fragments inked in innocent script: cursive that crawls and leaps and zigzags beyond margins. “Practice will reveal how one hand instinctively comes to the aid of the other to keep each line clear of the next,” Levertov writes. It’s true: writing in the dark, students come into new contact with their hands, remembering the physicality of writing. Yes! Still, even when they inadvertently write over words — the “mishaps” are delicate, complex, lovely — layers of meaning and ideas trimmed, intermingling. To give you a brief glimpse into the marks students made, I offer a cento here, a patchwork poem made from the notes of fifth grade students of B.F. Day and middle and high school students of the Hutch School.

Pages of Mistakes (Ave)

Glowing eyes, the power to see and shine (Luz)
hidden rivers oar like subtle shadows
when they are echoing inside doors (Jenny)
walking into the car of midnight and driving it (Oliver)
Don’t worry: it will be a little darkish
try to think of it as a beautiful bird flying your imagination
to the next step (Minh)
Trees tempt me with their swaying branches
They are asking me to climb them (Eva)
Am I afraid? Of course. Am I willing to be brave?
Yes like the moon and yes like the sound of dawn (Ave)
as the lights go off my mind is at ease (Ginger)
It does not stay restless like a tiger (Marc)
secret rivers that never rush by (Jude)
sorrow of the scarecrow (Megan)
as gentle as a feather coming to you
in your hands and heads knocking
at your door (Marc)
don’t bloom worry … clear voices …
flowers … drums … now what words (Jaylynn)

Things I Know at Seattle Children’s Hospital

Posted in Writer Posts with tags , , , on May 5, 2015 by writersintheschools

By Ann Teplick, WITS Writer-in-Residence

Enter the Heart

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I know when I walk through the doors of Seattle Children’s Hospital, I will enter the hive of a heart. There is so much love. I know there are families from all reaches of the planet. I know the scent of anxiety and uncertainty, and that when I walk into the classrooms, I will write poetry with youth who share what may seem impossible to imagine. I know the halo of their courage and resilience, and how I am a much stronger person because of it.

At Children’s, I write with youth in the Jan Sayers classroom—where those, whose health allows them to be around others, stay current with their school work. I also work in the Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Unit.

Reading and writing poetry helps me to make sense of the world. I choose, with care, which poems to bring into the classrooms, and these are the ones I dizzy over.

I know the moment I fall for a poem. Sometimes, it’s like snow that kisses an eyelash. Sometimes, like a peacock that fans its teal.

When I find a poem I love, I read it many times. I don’t try to dismantle its weave, to understand it. I sit with it, and tuck it beneath my pillow. I listen to its music—its Yo-Yo Ma, its Mic Jagger, its Merle Haggard, its B.B. King.

Enter the Cow

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One poem I love, and often open my residencies with, is Joyce Sutphen’s “Things I Know.” This is a poem about growing up on a farm. Which appeals to me because it’s not my experience. I love the imagery, from the subtle turn of a cow’s head, to the chicken pecking gravel, to the rain that slides in silver chains over the machine shed’s roof. I love the way the poem ends, the knowing of everything: “trunk by branch by leaf into sky.”

THINGS I KNOW

by Joyce Sutphen

I know how the cow’s head turns
to gaze at the child in the hay aisle;

I know the way the straw shines
under the one bare light in the barn.

How a chicken pecks gravel into silt
and how the warm egg rests beneath

the feathers—I know that too, and
what to say, watching the rain slide

in silver chains over the machine
shed’s roof. I know how one pail

of water calls to another and how
it sloshes and spills when I walk

from the milk-house to the barn.
I know how the barn fills and

then empties, how I scatter lime
on the walk, how I sweep it up.

In the silo, I know the rung under
my foot; on the tractor, I know

the clutch and the throttle; I slip
through the fence and into the woods,

where I know everything: trunk
by branch by leaf into sky.

Sutphen’s “Things I Know” is an invitation to any writer to share their bounty of knowing. Their area of expertise. When one is challenged with illness, it’s easy to misplace the compass that steers us to our strengths.

I begin the conversation by asking my students what they feel they are good at, what they know well. We generate a group list, which has included knowing how to scramble an egg; knowing how to irritate our mothers, fathers, and siblings; knowing how to lie; alienating others; pretending we are okay; breaking hearts; mending hearts; playing baseball; playing the trumpet; loneliness; being confused; swimming; sleeping; snoring; telling jokes; trying to be perfect; sabotaging ourselves; planting a garden; skateboarding; and teaching our hamsters tricks.

I then read “Things I Know,” which is followed by a group reading—each of us with a couplet. I love when many voices ring the room with a poem.

We talk about what we’ve noticed about this poem. It’s written in couplets. The words “I Know” repeat themselves many times. We talk about the way repetition underscores importance, and creates rhythm in a piece of writing. We talk about words, phrases, and images that we like, and why. We talk about what we don’t fancy, and where we have questions. We talk about the poem’s small moments, and overall, what the author might be trying to say. We share similar experiences to that of the narrator, if we have them. We shower the poem with sweet-smelling hay. But really, the poem showers us. Here are some of the student poems inspired by Joyce Sutphen’s “Things I Know.”

I KNOW FISHING (age 10)

I know how to catch fish in rivers,
lakes and oceans.
I know how to put baits and hooks
on my line.
I know you have to be patient
while waiting for fish to bite.
I know where to fish
by using my polarized glasses.
I’ve known fishing for seven years
and counting.

A BRUSH WITH DEATH (age 16)

The euphoria of staying afloat,
a pitch-black warmth of a mother’s womb.
The detachment and the praying at night,
the still silent air with the vibrancy
of a dirty old tomb.

It numbs moon-touched skin and pulls
you to the heat of your core.
The way you wake up in the middle of the night,
caramelized eyes, that cracked-open door.

Sweat that runs with the salt and the blades
that slide through your abdomen
and past pale skin.
It’s the realization,
the finality,
dread that your death will be painful.

The invisible warmth of a loving hand,
the after-glow of another worldly night.
A God-given gift.
What’s it like to wake up the next day?
Determined and willing to fight.
This is what I know.

I KNOW HOW TO LOVE LIFE, EVEN WHEN IT HATES ME (excerpt, age 17)

I know how it feels when life hates you,
when nothing goes right, and everything goes wrong.

I know how it feels to want to give up.
Such an easy way out can be tempting.

I know it’s hard to try to love life,
when all you see when you look around is bad.

I know you will find plenty to love, though,
if you look closely at the things you may feel are small.

I know sometimes I feel lonely here,
and think that my friends have forgotten me.

But I know they are just busy and stressed
and they don’t know how to talk to me in this situation.

I know that my illnesses will always be there
and some will worsen with time.

But I know I have family and friends around me
who will help me live the most fulfilling life I can.

Here are two poems, also inspired by Joyce Sutphen’s “Things I Know,” which were written collaboratively by students at Children’s and students at Mercer Island High School, in a special project this spring—

I KNOW WATER (ages 11 and 16)

I know how to swim. Diving into the cool blue water.
I know how the water tastes like bleach and burns your nose.
I know how to propel the water and pull myself forward.
I know the rush of waves crashing against me when I’m racing to the finish.
I know how the butterflies in my stomach feel when I step onto the block.
I know how they fly away as soon as I hit the water.
I know how looking at my coach, and hearing his words of support and congratulation, make me feel relieved.
I wish that diving off the block would be easier for me.
But I know how swimming lights my day.

I KNOW WARM VELVET (ages 14 and 16)

I know how to make delicious red velvet cupcakes.

I know how to cream the butter with the sugar
and crack the pale eggs on the side of the metal bowl.

I know how the machine rhythmically clinks and beats as it mixes the deep red batter.

I know how to pour the silky batter into the pan and smooth it out.

I know how to put the cupcakes into the oven with careful hands,
feeling the warm rush of heat brush across my rosy checks.

I wish I knew how they tasted as I wait impatiently for them to finish baking.

I hear the timer ding, and I know how it feels to take the first bite
of the warm, moist cake; how it delights my taste buds.

Enter the Caterpillar

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Amy Gerstler is a poet whose work I love, as well. Her “Advice from a Caterpillar,” is another poem I’ve tucked beneath my pillow. It’s crisp and witty, with advice that articulates the precision of a bulls-eye.

ADVICE FROM A CATERPILLAR
by Amy Gerstler

Chew your way into a new world.
Munch leaves. Molt. Rest. Molt
again. Self-reinvention is everything.
Spin many nests. Cultivate stinging
bristles. Don’t get sentimental
about your discarded skins. Grow
quickly. Develop a yen for nettles.
Alternate crumpling and climbing. Rely
on your antennae. Sequester poisons
in your body for use at a later date.
When threatened, emit foul odors
in self-defense. Behave cryptically
to confuse predators: change colors, spit,
or feign death. If all else fails, taste terrible.

I use this poem to compliment Sutphen’s “Things I Know,” because in life’s grand scheme—first, we know things; then, we know them well; and finally, we can dish out advice, right? Here are some of the student poems inspired by the caterpillar.

HOW TO READ MINDS (age 10)

First, buy a high-tech radio. Then, take it apart
and keep all the important things from the radio.
Next, buy a hat and a small satellite
and mount it on the hat. Now, go to the market
and buy hamburger ingredients to grill the patty.
And put the parts of the radio in the patty.
Then, put the burger together and eat it.
Put your hat on and wear headphones.
Now, plug the headphone into your satellite dish
and listen to people’s thoughts.

HOW TO FIX A LAPTOP (age 9)

First, what you could do is take apart the computer and wipe out
the memory card. If that doesn’t work, you can throw it in the
trash. Then take apart the computer and burn four red wires. Cut
three yellow wires and drop it in the sink. What you want to do
next is connect the yellow wires with the green wires. Then put
the computer back together and carry it to the ocean. When the
computer gets to the ocean, I’m going to tie dynamite to it and
light it and then throw it in the ocean. Bye-bye computer.

ADVICE ABOUT A KIDNEY TRANSPLANT (age 12)

It’s sore after the surgery.
It feels like you can’t move,
like you’re paralyzed.
If you move, if feels like you’ve been stabbed
a million times in your side.
After a week, you can try to get up
and walk around.
My first step felt weird, like I was taller,
because you grow and you don’t even feel it.
Don’t start running around.
You’ll feel limpy like an old man.
But the more you walk, eventually
the better you’ll feel.

ADVICE TO MYSELF (excerpt, age 15)

You aren’t defined by who you were,
but who you are now.
Remember, you are not dirt,
don’t let others treat you like that.
You are skillful in many things,
my little divergent.
Use your skills to help, not hurt,
especially yourself.
Stop beating yourself up
with the many “yous.”
Look at the limits you draw
yourself.
Pretend you have forgotten, and slip through.
Peace will never exist,
it is simply an illusion, along with hope,
but be the fool who uses illusion for comfort.

ADVICE TO ME (age 13)

Be true to who you are.
Don’t let people change you.
Hold yourself together.
Safety pin by safety pin, fix your torn heart.
Smile. Laugh. Giggle. Joke.
Be what you want to be.
Watch the slowly ticking clock.
Watch the hours tick by,
counting down your time left.
Live to the fullest.
Try with no regrets.
Hold your head high.
Protect your heart and mind,
because every princess has a crown.
Don’t let yours fall.
Be true to who you are.

Hopefully, we can tuck this poet’s last line, “Be true to who you are” beneath our pillows, as we navigate our days, as we try to walk strong, as we reflect upon the things we know well—knowing nothing can take those away.

The Resuscitation of Childhood: A WITS Reading with Matthew Burgess, Jason Koo, Erin Malone, Emily Perez, and Tiphanie Yanique

Posted in General with tags , , , on April 21, 2015 by writersintheschools

By WITS Interns Laura Burgher and Tracy Gregory

As new interns of the Seattle Writers in the Schools program, we were eager to hear perspectives from the panel of nationwide WITS writers presenting at this year’s AWP conference in Minneapolis. Each writer spoke about past or current residencies, working with students from 2nd grade through high school. We followed the threads of commonality that wove through each of the writer’s experiences as they shared stories of working with students, and the influence this had on their own writing. In their students’ work they all found a freedom, a wide-open space of play and creativity, that by tapping into they were able to access new levels of creativity in their own work. They all spoke very highly of the talent of the students they work with and find immense value in teaching.

Matthew Burgess, who teaches 1st and 2nd grade students in Brooklyn, believes there is an inner poet in all people, and that children especially embody this poet by embracing nonsense. When faced with a nonsensical phrase, the adult mind would dismiss it, while the child “jumps right in to keep the song going.” Matthew credits his students with teaching him how to write. Jason Koo read a poem he wrote based on an assignment he had given to his 3rd and 4th grade students in New York, who he believes are much better poets than adults. While we have suffering, he says, they come to the page with energy, imagination, and fun.

Although creativity overflows in the younger grades, Erin Malone, from our own WITS program in Seattle, recognized that her 5th graders tended to fall back to a “safer” place in their writing by returning to rhyme. When she pushes them to write outside of their comfort zone, their writing reveals a glimpse into their complicated inner lives. Erin noticed a trend in her students’ poems that draw from and address fears. She pulls from a similar place of fear and loss in writing her own book, Hover. (Erin will be reading from Hover this Wednesday, 4/22 at Elliott Bay Books).

Emily Perez, working in high schools in Houston, realized that most of her students censor themselves in their writing. She uses “experiments” to encourage them to take risks. She spoke of working with a student who had already developed her poetic voice, but by providing a safe environment to take risks in, the student wrote in an original and powerful way. Tiphanie Yanique also works with high school students, in New York, and read from an accomplished student writer. She attributes WITS with the development of her teaching and writing skills, which she sees as intricately intertwined.

Using the language of the panelists, including their poems and their student’s poems, we wrote the following interpretation:

wake the poet

find yourself an ocean

bump around in the blue

join in the interior feathered moss

dissolve what ifs (is blindness)

 

light a match into the windbreak

of your hand

fold tufts of clouds back

like moths eating sky

into your sweaters

 

scour the lion’s stomach

be the king of anything

 

when the ink runs dry

you faint

so make sure to sing

beautiful gigantic things

 

The Work of These Fingers

Posted in Writer Posts with tags , , , , on March 19, 2015 by writersintheschools

By Matt Gano, WITS Writer-in-Residence

The Center School is full of deep thinkers and creative minds. The pumps are primed and these kids are ready to write. To help build our creative approach I like to introduce themes that work as an arc throughout the semester. Mary Oliver writes, “…poetry imaginatively takes place within the world, it does not take place on a sheet of paper.” Using this quote as a springboard, the first practicing approach I throw out to my students is the idea that poetry is an “expression of the body.” I use this concept in combination with Mary Oliver’s stance as a backbone to constructing effective metaphor and developing creative ideas that are grounded in concrete imagery.

When we speak of the notion that poetry is an “expression of the body,” we talk about our sensory perceptions and our physical relationship to the world. We talk about translating our emotional experience, which most often lives in an abstract realm, into the physical by making connections to objects that imply our meaning. To take this a step further, we discuss how our own individual experiences with abstract emotions (love, hate, fear, etc.) can be understood universally through specific connections to the body. Here, Leiya F. shows us exactly how powerful-truths can be explored in this way in an excerpt from her poem, “The Work of These Fingers”:

“When my thumb accepts you,
I let the sun know
that you have done
the deed of a saint.
Disappointed,
I point down to the dirt you are less
than when you have forced hot coals
in my eyes from your sin.

I show this finger to silence the solid voices that slam, scratch, and slaughter
the air of this empty room.
I use this to beckon to the little girl who is pointed camouflage in the clean
grass and muddy filth of people that make her pliant.

I throw this exotic symbol to say “Screw you” to middle the people
who think they can use my body to fit their voice and use their voice over
mine.
Enough said.”

Moving through this concept, students are encouraged to look for other surprising ways that imagery can take form. By grounding our abstract thoughts, ideas, and emotions in the physical we become translators of experience. We discuss the idea that one of the important jobs of the poet is to find new ways of showing our emotions, to SHOW our truth by finding the right image. Here, Bryce G. shows us how this works in a excerpt from her poem, “A Symphony of Magnificence”:

“Her song is different
a pot of churning tunes
bubbling melodies
Her dreams are a symphony of sounds
an orchestra playing in harmony
something Beethoven mixed with Baroque
but as the last note
slides off a gleaming harpsichord

auto tune kicks in

to a pop singers sugary voice
as the base in the background
fades away
to the plucking of a guitar
and the crooning of the blues
Her smile is a sad folk singer

melting

into a tenor
bellowing out a song
wonderfully off key
he sings about a piano playing up a thunderstorm
like no other”

Doing this work early on in the first semester helps to lay a foundation for strong writing and imagistic depth. As we move further into the art of creative writing, having students understand connective imagery and the concept of translating experience helps to shift approach and train their imaginations to consider the transformative ability of metaphor and imagery as a powerful tool. With this little notch in their belt, they are one step closer in exploring their writing voices and honing their individual styles.

Hurry the Stone

Posted in Writer Posts with tags , , , on March 12, 2015 by writersintheschools

By Melanie Noel, WITS Writer-in-Residence

 

“hurry a lion into the cage of music

hurry stone to masquerade as a recluse

moving in parallel nights

 

who’s the visitor? when the days all

tip from nests and fly down roads

the book of failure grows boundless and deep”

 

– from “New Year” by Bei Dao, translated by David Hinton and Yanbing Chen

The cormorant is a poet among seabirds. Among boobies and loons, it’s a bird of the in-between. It appears to do nothing as it lets the sun and air dry its wings. It stands there frozen in a shrug. When it speaks it sounds like the door of a haunted house arguing with a toad. It is a great diver and can migrate in flocks, but there is this time between that it stops entirely.

Nikolai Goodman, the son of poet Denise Levertov, told a story at her memorial that stays with me. He was homeschooled in their apartment in New York City. He was doing homework on the floor and looked up to see his mom staring out the window. She was staring out for a long time. He asked her, “What are you doing?” And she shushed him, not gently, and said, “I’m writing a poem.”

I felt like an alien dropped in from a remote planet at Broadview-Thomson. My hosts, almost 80 of them born around the year 2005 (and three kind teachers born after 2005), were benevolent and imaginative. They were a kind of magnificent, sometimes frustrating wilderness who listen to and worked with me, despite my greenish pallor and strange voice. We made field notes from our respective positions. I tried to tell them about a timeless future I’d found in language, and they pointed persuasively at the present.

Being busy, being assessed, and competing, seem built into the fabric of schools. There is a lot of expectation and contradiction. You’re expected to pay attention but you’re often interrupted. You could miss things while looking out a window, let alone standing still to dry your wings. Thus the danger and the urgency of poetry.

I found myself particularly touched by students’ empathy when it appeared.   It seems the closest thing to being in-between, to one of the immeasurable values of poetry, and still within institutional bounds. We used Federico García Lorca’s poem “The Little Mute Boy” as a template for writing about the senses and learning refrain. Students who could read it in Spanish read it in Spanish for the class. Here is that poem and its translation:

 

EL NIÑO MUDO

 

El niño busca su voz.

(La tenia el rey de los grillos.)

En una gota de agua

buscaba su voz el nino.

 

No la quiero para hablar;

me hare con ella un anillo

que llevara mi silencio

en su dedo pequenito.

 

En una gota de agua

buscaba su voz el nino.

 

(La voz cautiva, a lo lejos,

se ponía un traje de grillo.)

 

THE LITTLE MUTE BOY

 

The little boy was looking for his voice.

(The king of the crickets had it.)

In a drop of water

the little boy was looking for his voice.

 

I do not want it for speaking with;

I will make a ring of it

so that he may wear my silence

on his little finger.

 

In a drop of water

the little boy was looking for his voice.

 

(The captive voice, far away,

put on a cricket’s clothes.)

 

From The Selected Poems of Federico García Lorca, by Federico García Lorca, translated by W. S. Merwin, published by New Directions. Copyright © 1955 by W. S. Merwin.

 

In Mr. Beers’s attentive and inquisitive class, Jeremy asked, “why would the boy give his voice to the cricket? That doesn’t make any sense.” It was a good question and a good point. I echoed the question back out and Ali, from the back of the room, answered, “maybe he knows the cricket needs it more than he does.”

Here is Ali’s poem:

 

The girl was looking for her sight.

The star-nosed mole king had it.

In a glass marble

the girl was looking for her sight.

 

I do not want it for seeing with;

I will make a bracelet of it

so that the star-nosed mole may wear my sight

on his arm.

 

In a glass marble

the girl was looking for her sight.

(The captive sight, far away,

put on a star-nosed mole’s clothes.)

Creating Emotional Space with Words

Posted in Writer Posts with tags , , , on February 26, 2015 by writersintheschools

By Imani Sims, WITS Writer-in-Residence

It was day five and my eighth grade students were still writing about an inside joke that had something to do with pears and noodles. As you can imagine, after the fifteenth poem about pears, I sat down with my classroom teacher to brainstorm how we could adjust Monday’s lesson to inspire some emotional response from these eighth graders. After a bit of deliberation, we decided to give them a list of emotions, ask them to silently reflect on specific times when they felt that way and simply write them down. We turned the lights off. Asked the students to close their eyes and simply think. After five minutes, we asked them to list all the instances that came up for them, during reflection. Hands flew across pages. It seemed to be working. Students were jotting things down and dumping real responses onto the page. After a few minutes, the chatter began and I knew it was time to move into the next phase of writing. I asked students to choose one emotion or one instance they had written down and begin to list details:

“What room were you in?”

“Who was with you?”

“Did you hear anything?”

“Maybe the cars outside or yelling?”

“What were the smells around you?”

A hand flew into the air, “Ms. Imani, can sterile be a smell?”

“Absolutely!” I responded.

“Keep working. What colors were around you? Give me as many details as possible. Put me inside of the moment with you.”

As the students crafted their moments, my classroom teacher and I circled the room like shepherds, gently guiding sheep to pasture. Each question was inspired. The eighth graders were finally coming into their own as writers and the bell rang. The next day, we took their moments a step further. I asked them how they could begin to craft these details into a poem. We displayed an example from a creative writing course their classroom teacher took, years before. She used provocative images to describe the day her father left. Everything from Legos to doors slamming placed the students in the moment. We asked the eighth graders to pick the imagery they thought would transport the readers to whatever moment they chose.

Over the next 50 minutes, the Broadview-Thomson eight grade class crafted some of the most beautiful poetry I had read in a middle school setting. For the culmination, I asked all of the students to present their work to the class. As students read, the eighth graders bore witness to their classmates’ stories with grace. They responded in a way that was supportive and loving. They held space for every emotion that surfaced. A few students cried, as some told tales about struggles with self harm and others boiled up with passion as they described the injustices the black community, in America, faced. These are the moments that inspire me to continue my work as a WITS Writer. Here, my work as an educator and artist has purpose.