Writing Poems

She said, "I want to learn to write poems."


After a couple of embarrassingly ineffectual starts, we ended up using National Geographic magazines. The first time, I found a photograph without a whole lot going on - a gray, tableau scene of a wolf, partly hidden in blowing snow, beside a downed caribou - and we talked about what colours and objects she saw. Then she wrote a paragraph of sorts. We struck out the connecting words and some other "extra" words, and she arranged the resulting phrases into a verse-like form.

The next poem she wrote from an NG photo she picked out herself. I helped with spelling and with identifying the connecting terms that could be safely left out. She arranged the phrases. Then, for her third effort, she imagined a picture. She wrote a paragraph, struck out some words (and checked with me about some others) and ended up with the poem pictured above:


Some little brown birds
are flying around
the wind is blowing all
the Green trees around
there are white clouds
up in the Sky
the light blue Sky

Is it a good poem? Who knows?

Opinions about poetry are like opinions about hockey teams or pie crust. Everybody's entitled to their views: nobody needs pay much attention to anything anybody else says.

In any case, people are entitled to write bad poetry. Forget the jazz police - it's a free jungle out there. Good poetry, in my immodest opinion, is enjoyable to read because it's a balanced mix of ideas and imagery showing an economical use of language and arranged in verse. Bad poetry lacks balance (is only imagery or ideas), has too many words, or is presented in some kind of unrecognizable, tortured format. It's less fun to read or muse upon. But it's not illegal.

But here's the point I wanted to make. (And I'm still riffing off Yabroff's mean-spirited Newsweek tripe discussed here.) Writing these three poems - of whatever merit - involved identifying a photo's main idea, choosing words to represent an image, talking about word forms (e.g., cloud vs. cloudy), thinking about adjectives (I didn't promote the idea of adverbs), and talking about poetic forms and paragraphs (a.k.a. stanzas). It also involved the sustained work of writing and re-writing (each poem went through four drafts: paragraphed twice, versed once, then good-copied into her book).

There's more work to do. Soon, she'll start asking about punctuation. We'll also get around to talking about when and why to capitalize words. Still, if you add in the 30 or 40 minutes of silent reading that happened earlier in the class, and it was a solid bit of language arts learning facilitated through a learner-requested activity that was both individualized and functional - functional because she now has a small collection of poetry she wrote herself.

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