This is the first year in a long time that I didn’t participate in NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month). I was working with poetry, reading and writing it nearly daily, but didn’t have the energy to even sign up at NaPoWriMo. So here are a couple of poems I wrote during that time.
Song of My Heart
The children on the lawn struggle
I sit in the shade and languidly point out that the toy they desire is near me.
The youth on the roadside with his friends shaken and shaking
I arrive and tenderly direct them to the safety of my car.
The figure on the bed no longer moves or breathes,
With my camera I capture one last moment and preserve the silence.
The smell of the cow-fields across the road, the scent of dryer sheets in the wind, the town-folk waking to another day in the rain,
The churning of tires on gravel with diesel fumes, the giggle of recognition and mumbled greetings,
The rumble of carts in the halls, the unlocking of doors, the slamming of books,
Lights, projectors, desks, chairs, shuffling feet dusting off snow or mud, The maestra standing in the doorway or in the center of the room,
The students peering solemnly at the topic without interest or understanding,
The playground now empty, now full of chasing, racing, gamboling figures,
A whistle, or a call, and the fun ends,
Books and papers strewn about the room, a pencil or highlighter sent across the table,
Chairs tipped backward falling suddenly and gales of mirthful laughter,
No harm done, microscopic wounds need less attention than imagined slights,
Shifting, moving, growing, pushing, emerging,
Fighting for survival, for friends, for attention,
In a minute, these small bodies will be sent into Life,
to work, to vote, to battle, to marry, to rejoice and to grieve,
I watch them through the decades —
and I let them go.
Commentary on Whitman’s Leaves of Grass
Section 6 “Grass”
The grass… This one really wandered around for me, and I had trouble catching the thread of his thoughts. The grass seems to point to an overarching purpose or design in the stanza “Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord, A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt, Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?”
I am reminded that in the 1800s it was
common for lovers to leave a handkerchief, or visitors a calling card, or the dead mementos of their passing through one’s life. The grass, on the other hand, also stands for democracy — the egalitarian dream that Whitman had: “Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones, Growing among black folks as among white, … I give them the same, I receive them the same.” And it stands for the enduring nature and persistence of life: “The smallest sprout shows there is really no death, And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it, And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.” This reminds of some of the other sections where life and death are juxtaposed and held in tension or opposition or comparison: Just as you are, so I was once (a consistent reminder in Crossing Brooklyn Ferry).
I think the beauty of this section is that Whitman seems to note a child’s question and take it seriously. As a teacher, I would like to think that he was able to make time for children and young people, and that his willingness to explore the possibilities of a blade of grass shows a patience that many people lack. I also think… going back to that first week of the course, that the use of grass as a metaphor here isn’t accidental. It’s related to the title, and the somewhat feminine style of the binding; perhaps emphasizing that even the least-grand materials are worth exploring to uncover the deeper connection and meaning.
A Lesson that didn’t happen
I had enthusiasm for teaching poetry to my current class, but the class itself was apathetic about so many things there was little time for innovation this time around. Still, the lesson’s bones are good and I want to try it again next year. We did talk about Theodore Geisel’s anapestic tetrameter and ABAB patterns, so we got to part of it!
I am going to share The New Colossus with my third graders in April, to help them recognize that immigrants have been the backbone of progress, the drivers of economies, the creators of opportunities throughout U.S. history. So this is a relevant question for me: how do I introduce this Very Big Idea to such young children? I think by first addressing what symbols our nation currently has that support the ideas of freedom and opportunity, and asking my students what they would choose as a symbol and why. What would speak to their experiences and knowledge — or to children just like them from other lands — what would it look like? How big would it be? Would it make a sound? What could it be made of (a living animal, a statue of metal or stone… fabric?). I would ask them to draw a picture of their symbol and write about it in prose. Getting them to think first about how something could appear would provide an entry point for them to understand what Lady Liberty symbolized for the original sculptor as well as the immigrants who saw her as their first introduction to their new home.
I could then ask them to compare their idea for a symbol with Lady Liberty, and offer The New Colossus as one way to think about her as a bridge to writing their own poems. I have taught 6th graders to write sonnets, but I think that form might be too complicated for the students in my current class. The idea of rhyme is familiar enough to them, but learning to recognize the patterns would be enough of a challenge, so I would start with asking the kids to work in groups to identify the rhyming patterns in either the octave or the sestet. Then I think I would ask them to write quatrains based on the rhyming patterns they identified (ABBA, or ABAB). I would set the task as writing about their own symbol. And I think making a class book or bulletin board of their pictures of the symbols, prose, and poems would be a great way for them to display their work.
Dr. Seussian Doggerel
All the kids in grade three
think they know what they’ll be
as a grown-up of age twenty-nine: a police man, or soldier, a fine master chef, fire fighter, or rich without effort, or struggle, or itch, super heights they’ll achieve
with relative ease
they’ll say, “Hey!
I am number One-A!”
April 22 Lesson Plan – scuttled
Creative Assignment for Third Grade
With the best intentions, I had poems and lessons ready to go for this month, but there were some very weird days, and my students were resistant to trying new forms of writing. These particular students are less moAtibvoautted in general than most third graders, and so it is difficult to anticipate what will work — things that have sparked kids’ imaginations in other years consistently fall flat this year.
However, I think I have an idea that could unlock some of the curiosity and wonder that third graders “should” have: Using the idea of tanka (linked poetry from Japan) and word families (common spelling/phonics work from primary grades), I think I can present the students with word lists and ask them to work in pairs to create ABAB quatrains a la Seuss. We dissected anapestic tetrameter last week, and it was a hit, so by asking them to continue the exploration with this lesson I have modified from one I delivered to 6th graders many years ago, I think I can build a little more excitement.
Goal: With a partner write two poems with linked stanzas using ABAB rhyming scheme and a rhythmic scheme (anapest or iamb or other).
Examples of “Seussian Tanka”
writing paper and tools
lists of ten-twelve rhyming words (self-generated for the more-capable students, teacher-created for on-level), or words from same word family (for students who need still more scaffolding)
1) Explain what a Tanka is, and share some examples. Ask the class to discuss how the authors added their own ideas/personalities. Explore why this kind of poetry might be fun and/or useful. Make a class chart of their ideas/responses.
2) Students will each write one line of a poem using one of the rhyming words on their own paper (pre-selected for those who need simpler words, randomly assigned for more capable students), then pass their paper to the partner who will write the next line with a different set of words. Student pairs will be teacher-selected for similar work
Students who refuse to participate will be asked to write a quatrain on their own (likely with a few).
Scoring: (Maximum 20 pts)
Consistent rhythm within own lines – 4; inconsistent rhythm – 3; no obvious attempt to create rhythm or pulse – 2.
After the first line of the poem, the subsequent lines reference the
previous line: every time – 4; most of the time – 3; Sometimes – 2; Rarely or never – 1.
The student retains the mood set by the first line of the poem: Consistently or Mostly – 4; Sometimes –
3; Rarely or Never – 2.
The student can explain their thinking about their own work: Yes – 4; No – 2.
The student conjectures what another student was thinking or feeling: Yes – 4; No – 2.
This type of poem is called a “Golden Shovel.” It was inspired by a book of poems by Nikki Grimes that I ordered a couple months ago from Scholastic. You can see more about her book at https://www.nikkigrimes.com/books/bkonelastword.html A Golden Shovel puts the words of an inspiration poem as the final word in each line of a new poem. This is my first attempt at writing such verse, I hope it is at least a little bit successful.
Dreaming of the Future until it is Past (inspired by Dorothy Parkerâ€™s The Red Dress)
The Red Dress, stanza three: “And he would be a gallant one, With stars behind his eyes, And hair like metal in the sun, And lips too warm for lies.”
There is nothing like grief; And
when I said, â€œCome,â€ he
always forgot so it would
be useless to ask, it should be
easier (I think) to be a
friend, or a lover, a gallant
knight in armor, just for one.
Night, I wandered, With
the best intentions; the stars
were wandering, too, behind
the trees and buildings… his
smile, hiding the pain in his eyes.
Well-hidden thoughts, And
still my heart, my hair
my face and hands like
fire scorching metal
memories in flesh, in
deep brands, the
heavy brightness of the sun
Embedded for life. And
then forgotten, our lips
were lovers too
mixing cool and warm
ignorant of their lies.
A lovely time…
I wasn’t sure
if I was ready to take
I worried about
I thought –
This will take forever,
can I go the distance,
Will I pull my weight
Now I look back
with gratitude for
all who took this journey
who carried me
when my strength failed
who shared their own
hearts and grief
walking through the landscape of learning.