05 May 2007

Teaching Poetry Spring 2007: Lesson #6 — Exemplary Sense Poems & Found Poems Shared

Today's lesson was spent sharing examples and reasons.

I started the class by reading several poems that did a particularly good job striking the senses and that illustrated the impact locality has on the effectiveness on the reader.

"Summer Song" by John Ciardi
By the sand between my toes,
By the waves behind my ears,
By the sunburn on my nose,
By the little salty tears...
And the poem goes on, but it was the best example of a poem that strikes at multiple senses with simple language. In fact, only one boy claimed that he had never tasted his tears. Aside from that one, macho-too-early boy, everyone in the classroom could relate to each of the experiences mentioned in Ciardi's poem.

"Knoxville, Tennesse" by Nikki Giovanni
I always like summer
you can eat fresh corn
from daddy's garden
and okra
and greens
and cabbage
and lots of
and buttermilk
and homemade ice-cream...
Whereas I thought this poem would really strike the kids' senses, it fell short by a landslide. What was the problem with the poem? Why couldn't the kids taste the foods listed? Locality. These foods are a staple in the southern states, but not well-known in Southern Oregon. So, I advised them to be aware of the power of locality and regional writing. It can either kill a poem's universality, it can capture the unique aspects of a region, and it can successfully blend both aspects with an eye toward helping others "travel" to your region without leaving their own.

"Velvet Shoes" by Elinor Wylie
(started mid-poem)
We shall walk through the still town
In a windless peace;
We shall step upon white down,
Upon silver fleece,
Upon softer than these.

We shall walk in velvet shoes:
Wherever we go
Silence will fall like dews
On white silence below.
We shall walk in the snow.
Now, this poem struck a chord with the class that I hadn't expected. I wanted to illustrate how even near-silence can receive an effective treatment in poetry. One kid, in particular, surprised me with his out-of-nowhere applause when I finished. This boy has dreaded every time I step in the class and admitted he hates poetry. Yet, this poem sparked something in him and the rest of the class joined in his enthusiasm for the poem, and no one was lost on the metaphor of walking in snow being like walking in velvet shoes.

After reading these poems, I told them to revisit their sense poems and to keep in mind the techniques I shared through the poems I read. No similes needed, just simple concrete words.

We followed this revisit of sensory poems with a sharing session. You may remember from the previous lesson, I gave each of them a book and a pen and instructions to go find poetry. Mr. Schmeling awarded those who found three or more items with a "dip" (their choice of one of three snack treats). I called those students up one at a time to share their favorite piece of found poetry, and to tell the class why they thought it was poetic.

All but one, my son Baylin, had found poems that rhymed, and several off one student's desk. Baylin's found poem, however, was not found in words, but in a poetic moment. He wrote:
Wanting a hole in the fence, do we go left or right, we go left and find the perfect hole made just for us

After he read this little found poem, I saw lights spark in many students' eyes. They misinterpreted my challenge to find poetry. Some even asked their parents to help them find some good books of poetry. After Baylin read his found poem, you could feel the "a-ha"s rise in unison.

I finished the class up with a poem I had written from several pieces of found poetry, as an example of what you can do with found poetry, using it as a launching point for something really cool. They loved my poem and I sent them on the mission to use their favorite or most inspirational piece of found poetry to write their own.

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