Tuesday, January 26, 2010

don't look now! it's bad poetry!

No, really. Don't look.

My students are doing this thing I do every year where we read a bunch of American Literature, and then I give them a thousand (or, yanno, twelve...) different creative writing prompts to spark their imaginations. Some of the prompts are for fiction, some for poetry, and some for personal essay. They can try all of the prompts or stick with just a few, but in the end, they have to hand in (or in our case, post to the class wiki) their best from each genre.

They always struggle with the poetry, and I mean, I don't blame them. It's not easy to write poetry, and it's really not easy to teach people to write poetry. Sure, you can give them strict forms to try (oh look! Another haiku! A limerick! A cinquain!), but for this assignment I've tried to encourage them to try their hand at other kinds of poetry, including free verse. We've studied all the poetic devices, read Whitman and Dickinson and Emerson and Poe--the whole unit is based on the Romantic Period, by the way--and then I turn them loose. Every year, I'm amazed at the fact that kids can actually produce some pretty awesome poetry when all I give them is advice like, "Don't worry. Break rules. Think about the sounds. Make us feel it. Give it a try. Start with a metaphor, maybe?"

This year's class is by far the most stressed out by all this, and in addition, my new student teacher needed an extra day to prepare his very first lesson, so this morning I had fifteen extra minutes and decided to break down and give them more guidance for a poetry prompt. We've been reading excerpts from Thoreau, both from Walden and Civil Disobedience, so I decided to ask them to do a sort of acrostic poem using the word "SIMPLIFY."

And then I sat down and wrote an example, and I like it. So despite the fact that I don't write poetry anymore (it's true; prose is all that flows now), I thought, "Hey, I'm asking them to do the impossible (they think) and write poetry. The least I can do is try, too."

But then I said to one kid, "You can do it. Look. I wrote one, right there on the board."

And he said, "Yeah, but you don't have to put it on the wiki for everyone to see."

And I said, "Yeah, but I put it right there for all of you to see. You don't think that's hard?"

And he said, "Well, maybe a little. But it's harder when the people reading it are, like, your friends and peers and stuff."

Okay, so. Point taken. So, gulp. Here's my poem, friends and peers and stuff.

...A tSunami of stuff...
.......Impressions of who I was and what I needed to buy--
.......More! More! More!
.........Life in excess--
.........I gather it into one great pile.
.The Fire takes a while to catch, but
.........Years later, I still feel the warmth.


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cowpops said...

I miss you! It was four years ago now when you told me my marshmallow riddle was "wow, seriously one of the best I've seen" and made me want to write! Wooo!! Thank you! I'm almost wishing I was in 7th grade again. I take that back.

Also, I'm not a huge fan of acrostics but I did like yours. Quite a bit actually.