Teachers & Librarians Page

THE WAY I LOOK AT IT….

I like to read poetry.  And I like to write it.

One reason is because I think in pictures.  A lot of people do.  It’s MAGIC.

It’s dreaming when you’re awake.  But with poetry you can figure out how all these unrelated pictures can come together and become an exciting concept that you express with words; words that don’t necessarily follow a normal logical order.

It’s something totally surprising and totally YOURS.

Not to mention electrifying.  It’s like pulling a white rabbit out of  a hat.  Only the hat is your head and the white rabbit is this poem that’s been waiting inside you anxious to jump out.

Another reason I like to write poetry is because sometimes when I see something, it makes such an impression on me – a WOW moment – that I want to remember it forever.

For example.  One day I look out of our kitchen window and see the neighbour’s cats playing in the snowy garden.  That night I can’t help it. I think about those two cats over and over. It makes me smile. Suddenly the first few lines of the poem jump into my head:

Two pussycats
Playing
Pawed in my
Snowgarden

People have many ways of creating poetry.
Here’s how I do it.

MY MAGICAL POETRY MIX

First I take all kinds of pictures from my mind that don’t seem to go together. Sometimes I don’t even think very hard because the pictures just pop, spin, fly, slide, bounce, and roll into my brain for some reason.

Suddenly this strange group of images are somersaulting around in my head.  And nothing makes any logical sense.
SO I make comparisons – I find ways to link the images.  I compare a blue blue sky to a field of summer bluebells or to my friends’ sparkly blue eyes.  In my mind they are all alike in some way because they are all too blue to be true.   Or I compare the sunrise to a big orange beach ball bouncing in slow motion over the horizon or to a galloping unicorn anxious to start the day.

And PRESTO it becomes totally another way of seeing things – my own private way.
There are a million and one images to compare and another million and one images to compare them to.  And more.  Much much more.
But the truth is, creating poems is a puzzle; an imaginative word and idea puzzle, which is totally fun and intriquing to work out.

NEXT I keep saying the image words and phrases in my head over and over and re-arranging them on paper or on screen, like furniture in the living room, until I like how they all work and sound together. Here it’s super  important to learn to trust what you like.

THE WORDS BEGIN TO GET MORE LIKE A POEM

Extracts above are from my battered and beautifully bruised old poetry notebook. These scratchy words eventually became 2 poems; COMET and THINK OF IT. They both appear in FIRECRACKERS

The words take on their own rhythm.

SOMETIMES the words can rhyme and that is fun.  Sometimes they don’t.  It depends on what I feel like doing with the words and ideas that day.  Or rather what the words and ideas feel like doing with me that day.
Poetry is funny like that.  You have to be open to it.

AFTER combining the pictures, the words, and the sounds in an order that I choose, the poems turn out to have a particular meaning.  This meaning reflects how I am feeling at any one time. So my poems can be funny, or sad, or unsettling, or lovey, or worried, or silly, or frightened, or bittersweet, or happy.  Or a host of other things as well.  And sometimes really not even that obvious to me at first.

FINALLY here is the key thing in my magical Zaro poetry world. When I am writing, I know deep down I have something I really want to say.  But believe it or not, I don’t always know what it is.  So I keep on writing and finally, if I am lucky and the stars are with me, I arrive at exactly what I mean to say.

And there is kind of epiphany!  An AHA moment.  The moment when the poem flies across the plate like a home run and makes sense.  And that is the most exciting thing.

To have figured out a little bit of what is going on inside me.
To have created something new.
And to have found a little bit of a personal link between me and the world out there.

That’s why I like poetry so much – it is a wonderful puzzle to work out and the results are totally unexpected and totally strange and always and forever MAGICAL.

KIDS WRITING POETRY

I have thought long and hard about children writing poetry  and have explored this topic for many years in loads of creative arts and writing classes and workshops around the USA with both teachers and kids. Here is what I think is a simple and fun way to get started.

LESSON PLAN 1 FOR KIDS WRITING POETRY

IDEA BANK 1

OBJECT: VISUAL FLUENCY
LANGUAGE APPRECIATION and SIMPLE WORD PATTERNS

It seems tough at first – writing a poem – and getting started is the tricky part. A good idea is to create a poetry culture in your class/school. Read poems together. Put some on walls. Make music and drawings with some. Make a poetry tree. Hang up favorites. These activities create a natural transition towards getting kids of all ages writing their own.

There are a number of interesting and wonderful poetry anthologies for young readers out there as well as books for teaching kids to write poetry, and also a few fantastic poetry websites. If you want any recommendations, just email me.

I have created a few beginning exercises which build a structure so that kids can start creating their own mental pictures and begin finding their own voices. This is important. We are aiming always for concrete visions. I remember my poetry teacher at Washington University, Donald Finkle, saying over and over: “make it concrete … make it specific … cut out the fluff words.”

Special Note: make a ‘keep off’ sign for a selection of lazy words that don’t contribute much to describing things – words like beautiful, nice, cute, awesome, cool, bad, wow, etc. Later we can find ways to use them, too.

PROMPT 1:

Each student makes a list of all the things s/he can remember from her/his home. This can take 5 minutes, with the class writing without stopping. I use this technique a lot to encourage writing fluency.

NEXT have each student find a hole in space to say a word out loud and individually. At first this may be chaotic, but classes quickly get there and exercises like this encourage both a secure sense of self and a collegiate atmosphere. Depending on age, these things can then be written down on the board or on paper.

Special note: this exercise can be done with all kinds of other environments, depending on age. For instance, in the garden, in the woods, outdoors at night, on the beach, under the ocean, up in space, in another time.

PROMPT 2:

Together with the class, make a long list of descriptive words including:

SIZE WORDS: e.g. big, small, tiny, thin, enormous, long, short.

COLOR WORDS: e.g. red, blue, orange, yellow. Later you can have a day of fun with lists of great words for colors like azure, marine blue, sea green, poppy red….

SPACIAL WORDS: e.g. high, low, fat, skinny, crooked, straight, curvy.

TEXTURAL WORDS: e.g. soft, hard, scratchy, velvety, sharp, smooth, gentle, sticky.

MOVING WORDS: e.g. wiggly, slow, fast, whizzing, whirring, running, hopping, jumping, strolling.

SOUND WORDS: e.g. loud, noisy, banging, quiet, whizzing, ringing, tapping. This is a good moment to introduce alliterative sound words that sound like what they really are … buzzing, whirring, whooshing.

SMELL WORDS: e.g. sweet, sour, disgusting, moldy, perfumed.

APPEARANCE WORDS: e.g. shiny, dirty, grungy, smudgy, clean, neat.

This can be an ongoing class list that can be added to every day as new descriptive words are found – a good way to spin your poetry thread through other curriculum areas.

PROMPT 3:

Ask the class to write 3 descriptive things about each object with a color always included. This is a good moment for students to start their own favorite word notebooks, which can lead to favorite phrase notebooks, etc. Now use three of those words in a phrase to describe something in your home.

The bed is blue, big, bouncy

OR

The bouncy, big, blue, bed

OR

The bed
Bouncy
Big
Blue

NOW
Choose the same objects and make the descriptions the OPPOSITE of what the object is really like:

The dog is orange, quiet, and hopping

OR

The velvet purple jumping plate

OR

The table
Curvy
Red
Running

NOW
Have the class write out a group long list of house things with crazy descriptions in 7 minutes. Then you can play the ‘hole in space’ game and they can call out things from their lists. Much fun.

NOW
Make up a list of verb or doing phrases about things the kids do everyday in their homes. This can be either written or oral – or even done as a charade.

Eat breakfast
Read a book
Laugh with my sister
Listen to a story

NOW
Insert any 2 crazy descriptive words from your list in the phrase. This is best done individually on paper.

Eat a wiggly pink breakfast
Read a huge curly book
Laugh a scratchy laugh

NOW FOR THE FINALE
Make up a zany way of putting all the words together in 3 lines. You might at this stage want to do a few group examples before heading the class off to work on their own. They can start with one which they recite to each other. Then they can go on do create more of their own.

Line 1 Descriptive:

My wiggly soft yellow shoe

Line 2 Action:

Ate a huge shiny breakfast

Line 3 Action using the prompt ‘and then’:

And then
Listened to a whirring fat story

And there you have it. Not really a poem as such. But totally fun for kids. They are now on a great course for developing a fluid stream of mental imagery, appreciating language, and developing simple word patterns. Of course, there are a million and one variations to this theme which you can play with, based on the age range of the class, their particular interests and your own predilections. So remember, have fun and follow the path less taken.

Stay tuned if you like this. Idea Bank 2 will deal with strengthening the imagination.

Please contact me if you have any questions at zazaweil@gmail.com