Tag Archives: poetry

Where I’m From Book Assessment

I came across the poem “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon, an American author from Kentucky, who has published in many genres, including picture books, poetry, juvenile novels, and articles.:

Where I’m From

I am from clothespins,

from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.

I am from the dirt under the back porch.

(Black, glistening,

it tasted like beets.)

I am from the forsythia bush

the Dutch elm

whose long-gone limbs I remember

as if they were my own.

I’m from fudge and eyeglasses,

          from Imogene and Alafair.

I’m from the know-it-alls

          and the pass-it-ons,

from Perk up! and Pipe down!

I’m from He restoreth my soul

          with a cotton ball lamb

          and ten verses I can say myself.

I’m from Artemus and Billie’s Branch,

fried corn and strong coffee.

From the finger my grandfather lost

          to the auger,

the eye my father shut to keep his sight.

Under my bed was a dress box

spilling old pictures,

a sift of lost faces

to drift beneath my dreams.

I am from those moments–

snapped before I budded —

leaf-fall from the family tree.

The poem has so much vivid imagery. The moments are also metaphors and requires students to make inferences reading and rereading the poem. The reader gets a clear picture in their mind of the childhood farm George Ella Lyon grew up on in Kentucky. The poem highlights the role of family, culture and childhood help to develop ones sense of identity.

My students read the poem silently first and then I read the poem aloud. After hearing the poem and reading the poem students sketched an image that stood out from their understanding of the poem. Students shared their sketches with their elbow partner.

Students were asked to work in small groups to deconstruct the poem:

  1. Go back into the poem and count how many times the lines begin with “I’m from…”
  2. Find a sensory description with vivid imagery using smell, touch, taste, or sight
  3. Find a metaphor and decipher it’s meaning
  4. Identify the memories vs. present time
  5. What else do you notice?

After ten minutes we returned back to the large class to discuss our findings. We discussed how each of the choices that Lyon made when writing her poem were significant, small items in her life that helped to shape who she was. T.

Now I love the idea of students creating their own “Where I’m From” poems about themselves but since we have been reading choice novels about identity, I had students create an “I Am From” poem based on the protagonist in their reading book. Students were asked to think of significant items in the protagonists life, things that helped shape their identity, family beliefs that molded what they believe, and a description of their place within their family using figurative language. The results were awesome.

The first student example is based on Daniel Nayeri’s Everything Sad is Untrue:

I am from a land that no longer welcomes me

A country where I cannot return, despite all the people demanding I do

Surviving, not thriving, in a new land that is almost as welcoming

Stuck with a name that isn’t my own

Where it is normal for me to leave school bloody and beaten

Working with classmates who refuse to acknowledge who I am

Who continuously mix up my home country with another, collectively deciding to turn away and disregard the differences

I am from a mom who is stronger than any hero

A sister who’s as smart as a textbook, but as cold as my favorite ice cream

We don’t talk anymore, all that’s left behind are memories

And even those are fading

I am from a step-dad who beats my mom to a pulp, but also keeps us afloat

A biological dad who decided we weren’t worth the trouble

Who moved on without a second glance in our direction

I am from riches and wealth, turned to dirt and no lunch

I am from a wonderful childhood, cut too short

Forced to grow up too soon

Missing my culture that encourages respect 

Unlike my new home, where respect is scarce 

Trying to keep my light alive by cracking jokes, although they are always met with silence

I am from everyone I had to leave behind

Everything I couldn’t save

Everyone I couldn’t protect 

I am one with the stories of the past, only true to me

Built from the everlasting tales, allowing me to live and learn

I am from a jasmine house where the memories are fond and my life began

Reminiscing in the scent of flowers, swans, sapphire blue rivers, and chests full of gold doubloons

I am from everywhere, everyone, and everything

A mosaic 

A reflection

A montage of the past

A collection of moments

Here is another student example based on Elizabeth Acevado’s Poet X:

My family is from the small religious island of the Dominican Republic

Where my Mami fled for America

But I am from the city

Where nobody sleeps

The part of Harlem where creepy men lurk at every corner 

I am from a school just a train ride away

Where most students skip class and fool around 

I am from a town that sees me not as a person but an object to mess around with

My life welded to live invisible, trying to hide from all those demanding to play with me 

I am from a life in which I can trust only me to stick up for myself

I am from a family in which respect is nowhere to be found

From disappointed looks and lecturings parties

From church every Sunday and an Earth rotating around God

I am from a mother who resorts to violence at every given second and a father who seeks no part in my life 

I am from a safety net that is my twin brother by whom I am connected to by twin powers

Yet from a family in which my gay brother is unjustly unaccepted and my freedom seeking self is restrained by thick chains and barbed wire

I am long gone from the days of the ice skating rinks and peaceful church with Father Sean

No longer remembering the love my Mami and I once shared

I am from a suffering family through and through working to mend our knotted, beaten family back together 

I am a little girl inside a big body who seeks safety and acceptance yet gets met by hatred and harassment

I am a girl who wants everything she’s never supposed to have

Someone who wished for a boy but gets meet by misogyny 

I am from hours of being discriminated against and named a ‘cuero’ and days of questioning who I am 

I am from a tight ship revolving around strict rules

From a confusing and curious brain that goes against my family’s teachings 

And a girl who wishes to write poems peacefully 

From a life scarred by the appalling cent of my burning notebook filled with my problems I never solved 

I am from the secret poetry club restricted by my hate filled Mami and knees that burn from the rice buckets 

From the safe warmth of Ms. Galiano the only women who showed kindness and encouragement

I am from a world of great bravery learning how to express my pain and share my joy

A place in which I shall share my poems freely and safely to the world

I am a woman who shall honor and stay true to herself

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End of the Year Activities for Students

Here are five fun literacy activities you can use with your students to close out an interesting year of blended learning due to the pandemic.

1) Send thank-you emails

What better way to end the year than helping students learn how to craft notes of appreciation and sending them to faculty, staff, and other students?  Everyone has worked hard the last few months and could use kind words.  In times of quarantine, social distancing, and hybrid learning, taking time to stop and acknowledge individuals with heartfelt gratitude helps students realize both others’ impact on them and their impact on others.

2) Progressive stories

Begin a new document with a list of randomly-ordered student names with your class.  Write a starting sentence in the document and share the document with the first person on the list.  The first student has to continue the story with a sentence of their own, then share the document with the second person on the list.  Continue this sequence until every student has contributed.  For variation, start a couple of different stories with the list of names in different order.  See what creative and humorous stories emerge!

3) Found poem gallery

Students can use their mobile devices to snap a photo of an existing block of text (such as a page in a book).  Students can use an annotation tool to strategically and thoughtfully mark out words, leaving a small number of words uncovered that result in a poem.  Students can post their finished poems to Padlet or some other platform for others to comment on their creations.  You can see an example on Kate Hutchinson’s blog.

4) Six-word memoirs

Students can summarize their pandemic-shortened school year in six cleverly-chosen words.  You can read more about this project idea HERE.

5) Video & Film Challenges

Give your students a prompt to make a short video to close out the school year. Tim Needles @timneedles always has some inspiring video and art challenges from untraditional selfies to self portraits. You can find a lot more creative ideas on his YouTube Channel and the Jacob Burns Film Center Education Blog also posts different film challenges students can partake in.

Hopefully these five suggestions get you started thinking about other ideas you can incorporate. 

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Virtual Field Trip to Emily Dickinson Museum

One of my graduate students has been doing an author study of Emily Dickinson for our Writing and Thinking class this spring. Through his work I have been drawn to his discoveries and sharing about the unique poetry written by Emily Dickinson. Her poetry, as he describes is “more than a piece of writing to be studied, they are pieces of timeless art.” Using Dickinson’s letters and even her gardens helps to understand her poetry more deeply, her revision process, and the power of her words.

Emily Dickinson was born December 10, 1830, in Amherst, Massachusetts. During her lifetime, Emily Dickinson published less than a dozen poems. All of them were anonymous. By the time Dickinson turned 35, she had composed more than 1100 concise, powerful lyrics that astutely examine pain, grief, joy, love, nature, and art. She recorded about 800 of these poems in small handmade booklets (now called “fascicles”), very private “publications” that she shared with no one. After Emily’s death, a hidden trunk was found by her sister containing almost 2,000 poems. Emily Dickinson’s experience as a gardener helped develop several of her poems about nature.

Take a virtual tour of the grounds and landscape of the Emily Dickinson Museum

Through her windows, Dickinson would have viewed a sweeping meadow and The Evergreens’ picturesque landscape. She was a passionate amateur botanist, as a teenager collecting more than 400 specimens and pressing them into her Herbarium (also at Houghton), and a lifelong gardener. Her father built her a small conservatory on the side of the house, where she tended calla lilies, gardenias, and inland buttercups. Nature, as The Gardens of Emily Dickinson, by Judith Farr, indicates, lent vitality and endless inspiration: one-third of Dickinson’s poems, and half her letters, mention her favorite flowers. Often, she records the most precious, minute observations: “A Bird, came down the Walk -/He did not know I saw -/He bit an Angle Worm in halves /And ate the fellow, raw,/ And then, he drank a Dew/From a convenient Grass -/And then hopped sidewise to the Wall/To let a Beetle pass –….” [This Dickinson text—#359—and #1696 and #1091 below, are from R.W. Franklin, The Poems of Emily Dickinson (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998).]

Dickinson found great joy in exploring the mysteries of nature, and some of her poems read like riddles. A concise and complex poem like the one below forces the reader to slow down and consider each word and image. Can you figure out what this poem is about?

A Route of Evanescence, (1489)

A Route of Evanescence,
With a revolving Wheel –
A Resonance of Emerald
A Rush of Cochineal –
And every Blossom on the Bush
Adjusts it’s tumbled Head –
The Mail from Tunis – probably,
An easy Morning’s Ride –

On the Museum’s webpage about the Major Characteristics of Dickinson’s Poetry it states, “One of Dickinson’s special gifts as a poet is her ability to describe abstract concepts with concrete images. In many Dickinson poems, abstract ideas and material things are used to explain each other, but the relation between them remains complex and unpredictable.”

Although the museum is currently closed due to the pandemic, teachers and students can still go online to view the museum, galleries, and tour the grounds. Additionally, the museum website offers lesson plans, resources, and extensive historical biographical information about Dickinson and her family.

Looking for more about this elusive poet, Apple TV’s Dickinson is an American comedy streaming television series about Emily Dickinson, created by Alena Smith starring Hailee Steinfeld. This retelling of Dickinson’s story draws attention to the parallels between the 1800s and our world today. The second season was released in January 2021.

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NCTE Verse: Sekou Sundiata

For the past month, National Council of Teachers of English has been sending its members a poet a day celebrating more than 20 poets, the majority of them contemporary and up-and-coming. The last one share for 2020 National Poetry Month was one that I wrote about the poet Sekou Sundiata. As a first year teacher in New York City twenty years ago, I saw Sekou Sundiata perform live at the New School University and still today, he influences my teaching and writing poetry with my students. For more information about past poets and teaching poetry check out NCTE.

Poet of the Day: Sekou Sundiata
Sekou Sundiata’s poetry touches on issues of race and identity. A poet and performance artist, Sundiata’s poetry performances infuse jazz, blues, and Afro-Caribbean rhythms. He wrote the plays Blessing the Boats, The Circle Unbroken is a Hard Bop, The Mystery of Love, Udu, and the 51st (dream) state. Sundiata was the first Writer-in-Residence at New School University where he taught literature and poetry classes. In 2001 he toured with Ani DiFranco, whose Righteous Babe record label released LongStoryShort. Sundiata was featured in Bill Moyer’s PBS series The Language of Life and the PBS series United States of Poetry, created and produced by Bob Holman. Sundiata said of his work, “This is poetry-as-living-word. That’s the tradition I come out of . . . the spoken word as a celebration of life, as expression of consciousness through the power and glory of language. Poetry not as monologue, but as dialogue; a chant, a call, a response, a riff, a refrain and whatnot.”
This poet belongs in our classrooms because . . .
Poetry is music and music is poetry. Sundiata’s poetry has a political edge and speaks of black culture and tradition. The topics he presents about race and identity are part of an ongoing conversation about America’s identity, citizenship, and individuality. Sekou Sundiata is considered one of the grandfathers of the spoken-word movement. Poetry in our classroom is not just for literary analysis, but for performance too. Poetry is meant to be spoken and heard. It evokes emotions, reactions, and is a catalyst for critical conversations in the classroom.
A Poem by Sekou Sundiata
Blink Your Eyes
I was on my way to see my woman
but the Law said I was on my way
thru a red light red light red light
and if you saw my woman
you could understand,
I was just being a man.
It wasn’t about no light
it was about my ride
and if you saw my ride
you could dig that too, you dig?
Sunroof stereo radio black leather
bucket seats sit low you know,
the body’s cool, but the tires are worn.
Ride when the hard time come, ride
when they’re gone, in other words
the light was green.
I could wake up in the morning
without a warning
and my world could change:
blink your eyes.
All depends, all depends on the skin,
all depends on the skin you’re living in
Up to the window comes the Law
with his hand on his gun
what’s up? what’s happening?
I said I guess
that’s when I really broke the law.
He said a routine, step out the car
a routine, assume the position.
Put your hands up in the air
you know the routine, like you just don’t care.
License and registration.
Deep was the night and the light
from the North Star on the car door, deja vu
we’ve been through this before,
why did you stop me?
Somebody had to stop you.
I watch the news, you always lose.
You’re unreliable, that’s undeniable.
This is serious, you could be dangerous.
I could wake up in the morning
without a warning
and my world could change:
blink your eyes.
All depends, all depends on the skin,
all depends on the skin you’re living in
New York City, they got laws
can’t no bruthas drive outdoors,
in certain neighborhoods, on particular streets
near and around certain types of people.
They got laws.
All depends, all depends on the skin,
all depends on the skin you’re living in.
Other Poems & Performance Pieces by Sekou Sundiata
New American Theater (Dodge Poetry Festival)
Teaching Connections
“Blink your Eyes” can be used for text comparison or text pairing with Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas, or Nic Stone’s Dear Martin. Additionally, this poem can be part of a discussion about Jim Crow laws and racism throughout history. This poem was written in the mid 1990s addressing racial profiling and stereotypes, but provides context and connections to history and today. Looking at craft and structure, students can examine how Sundiata’s figurative language and repetition provide meaning and emphasis.
Discussion Prompts & Text-Dependent Questions
  1. What is the author’s message about racial injustice?
  2. How does the author use irony to describe his feelings for his readers?
  3. The poet uses details to guide our emotional response. What emotions do you believe the author intended the reader to experience and why?
  4. What is the significance and symbolism of “red light” emphasized throughout the poem?
  5. How does the personification of the law contribute to the poem?
As Jay-Z writes in Decoded, “Rhymes can make sense of the world in a way that regular speech can’t.” Listen to the poem multiple times; when we only deconstruct the poem on paper, it loses its full capability. Recognize how the music and rhyming adds an additional layer with the sound of language to make meaning. Check out Bryce Ware’s reading of Sundiata’s poem as well as Sundiata performing his poem.
All of Sundiata’s poetry can be used as a model and mentor text for students writing and performing their own poems about social injustice and oppression.
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Poet of the Day Playlist

Educators are teaching remotely now that school are closed due to COVID-19. My focus for my students and children is staying healthy under this stress, fear, and anxiety of the current situation. Whereas grade are important, mental health is my primary focus. I do not want to cause more stress, fear or anxiety that children might already be feeling working from home, confined to their home, and away from their friends.

As educator and author Kelly Gallagher stated on his website, “The last thing I want to do with my home-bound students is to load them down with brain-numbing packet work. So this lesson plan was designed to honor student choice, student agency, student voice. This is not the time to give students chapter quizzes on their at-home reading of 1984.”

Similarly, I want to provide my students with opportunities to read, write, and reflect. I have created a poetry playlist for the next few weeks so that my students can read poetry, learn about different poets, and then write in response to the poem. I want to inspire them to write their own poetry.

Poetry Playlist

April in National Poetry month but these poems and poets can she shared any time of the year. I am sharing this three week poetry playlist with teachers to use and adapt for their own classroom.

I ask students to respond to each poem. Students are asked to write one page (or more) in their Battle of the Books Notebook or Writer’s Notebook,  capturing thoughts, questions, comments, and connections about the poem. The directions I provided are based on a poetry one-pager posted online by #NCTE:

  • Write the title of the poem and author’s full name
  • Quote a line from the poem and explain what you believe it means
  • Draw 5 images from the poem and caption the imagery that inspired each
  • Create a boarder using a key phrase
  • Select a main idea of the poem and relate it to your own life
  • Define 2 important words from the poem (Definitions should be in your own words)
  • Quote a phrase or line – make a personal connection to it
  • Explain why a friend might want to read this poem
  • Add color to all the images
  • On the page adjacent to your response,  write a poem or free write inspired by the poem

Poetry Response

Do you have a favorite poem or poet to include on the playlist? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

 

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Engaging & Empowering Readers with Penny Kittle & Kelly Gallagher

I have been waiting all week to write this post because I wanted to share the insight I gained from a workshop today with Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher sponsored by Heinemann Professional Development.

As literacy teachers, our goal is to make kids better readers and writers. What does that entail? Everyday practices of reading, writing, studying creating, and sharing. 

Kelly Gallagher began by referencing Pedro Noguera, a distinguished professor of education at UCLA  who said we are asking the wriong question. Rather, “We need to ask what can we do to challenge and stimulate our students?”

Both Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle talked about moving towards generative reading and writing vs. task oriented reading and writing. “We want students to generate their own thinking first.” When we ask students to answer specific questions about a text they are answering our questions and focused on the task at hand.  Students are getting too immersed in tasks. Tasks are getting in the way of rigorous thinking and what is the value of this text.  If we are to encourage and engage students in deep thinking about reading and writing students need time to read and talk about reading IN CLASS. 

Richard Allington, “Reading is less about ability and more about opportunity.” The volume of reading is key. How much and how often students read affects their lives in crucial ways. 

As teachers, we need to focus on:

Time — Choice — Access

In Gallagher’s classroom, there are three goals for every reader:

  1. Increase volume of reading
  2. Increase Complexity
  3. Develop an allegiance to authors and genres

When it came to talking about how to motivate readers the following practices are in both Kittle and Gallagher’s classrooms: 

1. Their Own passion

2. Choices

3. Book Talks – Start of every day is a book talk to help students find books they love. Why? It creates a willingness to practice outside of class. Read aloud a piece of the text everyday in a book talk. 

4. Time to read in class –20% of class time devoted to Independent reading and conferences. Gallagher mentioned it takes a couple of weeks for most students to get into 10 minutes of sustained independent reading

5. Holding Reading Conferences – In conferences, students learn how to have meaningful conversations in a safe 1:1 setting with a teacher who can move their thinking.

NCTE's Position Statement on Independent Reading

As NCTE defines “Independent reading is a routine, protected instructional practice that occurs across all grade levels. Effective independent reading practices include time for students to read, access to books that represent a wide range of characters and experiences, and support within a reading community that includes teachers and students. “

 

As for writing, low pressure writing is a daily occurrence in both their classrooms. Students write quick writes daily and after 10 quick writes in their notebooks the students decide which one they give the teacher permission to read. Students are reading and writing everyday in class. 

Students use their writer’s Notebooks based on what Donna Sandman describes as

A workbench – a place to practice 

A place to stumble on ideas – a collection place

A place you go to do work – a playground 

Both Gallagher and Kittle shared their own writer’s notebooks. They spoke about writing alongside students and allow students to see you struggle as a writer.

Additionally, they talked about the importance of daily flash revision. Allowing 90 seconds a day of tinkering and polishing your writing. Rather than peer editing, they have students,  “Tell your writing partner one thing you did to make your writing better.” Revision is kept in a writer’s notebook. Students put a sticky note on one page they want us to look at. Notebooks are meant to support the writer, not evaluate her. Students are given ten minutes to craft one page of writing. Gallagher tells his students, “You have stories to tell, that only you can tell the story.”

Penny Kittle broke down some old way of thinking about teaching writing versus new thinking about writing:

OLD Thinking NEW Thinking
1. Kids should produce one big paper over weeks of work
2. Tell students what to write and how to write it, which makes writers dependent on the teachers (Checklist)
3. Writing process is defined as prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and final drafts graded with a rubric – Students work mostly under teacher direction throughout unit
1. Opportunities to practice the same skills multiple times (Laps around the tracks) in different contexts which makes writers more flexible and skills transferable
2. Students decide on a focus for their writing and how to organize their ideas effectively for an audience which increases confidence in applying what they learn as they struggle with these decisions in other rhetorical situations. 
3. The writing process includes generating ideas through quick writing to poems, infographics, photos, editorials, etc. These quick writers are revised as regular practice. 

Both Kittle and Gallagher shared tons of book titles and poems to use with students for reading and quick writes. These texts provide a seed that will spur thinking. Students are encouraged to grab a word, grab a line, grab a hot spot and then write off it. 

Here are ten poems shared in the workshop and used for quick writes:

“Camaro” by Phil Kaye

“what the dead know by heart” by Dante Collins

“Hair” by Elizabeth Acevedo

“Kitchen Table” by George Ella Lyons

“Deer Hit” by Jon Loomis

“Native Tongue” by Micah Bournes

Kwame Alexander: Take a Knee

Rigged Game by Dylan Garity

“B” by Sarah Kay

Lastly, a piece by Matt La Pena worth checking out.

“Why we shouldn’t shield children from darkness” by Matt La Pena

Here’s a complete list of spoken poetry shared by Kelly Gallagher

 

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Makey Makey Literacy Mashup

In my newest book, New Realms for Writing (ISTE, 2019) I have a chapter on poetry, video production, and hacking poetry with Makey Makey. Makey Makey are invention kits for people of all ages. The circuit boards in the kit mimic a key board and allow users to create circuits and turn anything into a touchpad. Check out the original Kickstarter video by inventors Jay Silver and Eric Rosenbaum.

makey-makey-contents-2

When I saw Colleen Graves, librarian, author, blogger, and maker extraordinaire describes her hacking poetry project with high school students on Twitter the possibilities of using this tool in my English classroom were endless.

Hacking Poetry means that students create interactive poetry experiences using different apps and makerspace materials. Colleen first had her students select a poem that intrigued them. They read and analyzed the poem by drawing the key images associated with poem. Having students create visual representations of the poem and the imagery in the poem requires them to think critically about the poem’s meaning and symbolism. Then, using the coding program Scratch, students recorded audio reading aloud the poem to convey meaning,  mood, and tone. Lastly, students programed the drawings to play the poems with Scratch and attached the Makey Makey alligator clips to the computer or a conductive item so the poems could be seen in words and images as well as heard and read back to the students.  

I wanted to do something similar with my 8th graders. Using poems and songs, students would first create found poems about themselves based on the self selected poems and songs. Then, students would illustrate their found poems before including the audio component.

Screen Shot 2019-05-18 at 5.44.34 AM

Graphite is a conductive ink that you can use to attach the Makey Makey alligator clips  right to the student illustrations and it works as a conductor passing electricity. The Makey Makey Booster pack comes with special pencils but I went on Amazon and purchased two boxes of Graphite 6B pencils, softer artist pencils for my students to use for their projects. 

Students created small booklets with their poems and illustrated the booklets. Later using Scratch we added music and audio to play back the poems. There are endless possibilities with the Makey Makey to combine making and writing. For example, I have seen students create interactive poster boards and display boards for research projects. Students can invent something to contribute to the world in a positive way in a design challenge. These projects require critical and design thinking, two important life skills. On the Makey Makey website you can find a gallery of projects inspired by educators across all content areas for more ideas.

IMG_3789

 

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April is National Poetry Month

I was recently going through all my teaching notebooks and I came across the poetry unit I taught my first year of teaching in New York City. On the first page of the unit was ee cummings’ A Poet’s Advice to Students. His sage advice can be applied to any genre of writing.

A Poet’s Advice To Students

e. e. cummings

A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feeling through words.

This may sound easy. It isn’t.

A lot of people think or believe or know they feel-but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling-not knowing or believing or thinking.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.

To be nobody-but-yourself-in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else-means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time-and whenever we do it, we’re not poets.

If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed.

And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world-unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.

Does this sound dismal? It isn’t.

It’s the most wonderful life on earth.

Or so I feel.

Looking through my notes and lesson I also came across the poem collection I wrote along with my students. It was called “Poem Advertisement” because that is how I started to write my poems, I searched through the magazines I had in my apartment and ripped out the funky advertisement logos I found a liking to. Yet, when I looked through and read all the poems, there is a distinct theme about escaping and not holding on to what people tell you. I wrote in the introduction that I “wrote these poems behind your back, I sat up one night and just wrote and wrote and continues to play with words trying to create poems. You keep pushing me and asking me to write and so I did, and this is what was born. It is difficult for me to pick a favorite poem because it is hard to play favorites with your feelings.”

Untitled

I.

Fire is the passion

of anger I feel for

my friends

II.

Tomorrow I will swim in

tears I cry over

many beautiful memories

III.

Doors open towards the

light gleaming off

the snow

IV.

Green grass stands

together unlike

my own solitude

which hammers

at my lonely self

 

Untitled 2

Trying

to capture

a poem

full of vivid color

and vivaciousness

I am not

going

to let it get away today

I stand

still

silently

absorbed

in this search

for

a time thought

be quiet

so it will

come to me

your noise

only scares it away

 

 

 

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Haiku: Teaching Japanese Aesthetics Through Its Poetry

An old pond:

A frog jumps in —

The sound of water.

by Matsuo Basho (translated by Harold G. Henderson and Geoffrey Bownas

Many students have been introduced to the poetic form of haiku in elementary school. It is a deceptively simple form which constructs an entire poem with only 17 syllables organized in three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, respectively. Typically, if you ask students of any grade or ability level what they know about haiku, they will tell you about the 5-7-5 structure. Perhaps they will have some idea that many haiku are about nature. I like to start a haiku lesson or unit of study from that point from the students’ perceptions that haiku are mostly about their form, to the reality that haiku are perfectly distilled representations of several aspects of Japanese aesthetics: an appreciation of simplicity, of impermanence, of suggestion, and of nature.

Criteria for Haiku:

17 Syllables

3 Lines

5-7-5 Form (traditional Japanese haiku poets count “sounds,” not syllables. 

Doesn’t rhyme

Usually about nature (not required)

Shows change or contrast

Can go from the general to the specific or vice versa

Very Condensed form: suggests rather than tells

Seems simple, but makes you think or evoke feeling

Emphasizes impermanence, the quality of things which do not last. 

Almost all haiku contain a seasonal word or phrase which indicates the season, like “spring rain.” In Japanese, this seasonal word is called a “kigo.” Additionally, the poet usually introduces an image in the first line which he then illustrates or contrasts in lines two and three, or he develops an image in lines one and two which he then summarizes or contrasts in the final line. Haiku cluster the image at the beginning [5-7]-5 or the end 5[-7-5] of a haiku. This technique of “cutting” – the Japanese term for switching from the general to the specific, or from one image to another related one. Haiku are written in present tense. A haiku freezes one moment in time the way a snapshot does. There is no firm rule regarding capitalization and punctuation in English haiku nor as to whether haiku comprises a complete sentence. These things are decided by the poems themselves, on a poem to poem basis.

Haiku began in Japan during the 17th century. A haiku should share a moment of awareness with the reader. Peace, sadness, mystery – these are only a few of the emotions that evoke haiku and which we can feel when we read haiku. The key to our feelings about the things around us and to the feelings we have when we read a good haiku, is the things themselves. The things produce emotion. The words of the haiku should create in the reader the emotion felt by the poet, not describe the emotion.

Before trying to write haiku, it is a good idea to look over some examples. Think about each one. What makes the moment it talks about special? What word or phrase tells you the season? How does that affect the meaning of the haiku? Notice how many haiku create emotions by connecting two or more images together in a strange, new way.

Because haiku have an alive now quality, most haiku do not have any metaphors or similes. For the same reason, haiku poets do not use rhyme unless it happens accidentally and is hardly noticeable. In making haiku, try to present something in the more direct words possible. Haiku are about common, everyday experiences and avoid complicated words or grammar. As one expert on the Japanese haiku called it “a poem recording the essence of a moment keenly perceived in which nature is linked to human nature.”

between the pages

of a favorite book I find

squashed fruit crumbles

— Annie Wright

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10 poems to make you think, cry, cheer, and respond

Poetry is powerful. Poetry tells stories. Poetry is testimonials. Poetry persuades, informs, and inspires. In an article for the Atlantic, Andrew Simmons wrote, “poetry enables teachers to teach their students how to write, read, and understand any text. Poetry can give students a healthy outlet for surging emotions. Reading original poetry aloud in class can foster trust and empathy in the classroom community, while also emphasizing speaking and listening skills that are often neglected in high school literature classes.”

In my own classroom I have utilized poetry throughout the school year for close reading, text to text connections, textual analysis exercises. Students are not only readers and listeners of poetry but also poetry writers themselves. Creating poetry for our multi genre projects and point of view exercises, responding to and writing as characters in the books they read. Below is a collection of powerful poems to share with secondary students for close reading, critical analysis, and mentor texts.

Stair-Poem

How to Write the Great American Indian Novel by Sherman Alexie

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