On the official starting day of National Poetry Month we start off our celebration with a post from Rose Cappelli, coauthor of Poetry Mentor Texts. She asks — and answers — the question: Why poetry? What is it about poetry that captures our mind, heart, and spirit? Why are you celebrating and sharing poetry this month?
After her mother died, Caroline Kennedy published The Best Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. In the foreword she states: “One of the greatest gifts my brother and I received from my mother was her love of literature and language.” Mrs. Onassis encouraged her children to read widely, and she often shared with them the books and poems she loved best. Caroline and John Kennedy were also encouraged by their mother to choose or write a favorite poem to give as holiday or birthday gifts for family members. What a wonderful tradition!
Poetry can help us share our thoughts, feelings, wishes, and dreams. With poetry, we can make things that seem small and insignificant into big ideas that help us make sense of the world. The perfect poem can help us express our emotions in the most eloquent of ways. One of my favorite poets is E. E. Cummings. I remember reading many of his poems in college and copying them onto small scraps of paper that I would eventually find tucked into books and notebooks, or perhaps in a pocket or purse. Most recently I included a copy of e.e. Cummings’s “i carry your heart with me” in the Valentine card I gave my husband. It was the perfect sentiment expressed in the perfect way, and I certainly couldn’t have said it any better than Cummings did.
Sharing poems with others is a special gift. A poem can provide comfort in difficult times when it is often hard to find the right words, or help a friend understand what you are feeling, or perhaps just bring out a smile or a laugh. Poetry can create memories passed on and shared through generations. The rhythms and rhymes of poems can help young children appreciate and develop a love of language that will serve them well throughout their schooling and beyond.
Caroline Kennedy put together two additional poetry collections: A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children and She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey Through Poems. Over the years she has kept poems given to her and passed them on to others. “To me,” she writes, “that’s the gift of poetry—it shapes an endless conversation about the most important things in life.”
Award-winning poet and playwright Nick Flynn, coauthor (with Shirley McPhillips) of A Note Slipped Under the Door, is getting a lot of attention lately: his memoir describing a chance reunion with his estranged father is the basis of the new film Being Flynn, starring Robert De Niro and Paul Dano. We spoke with him this week via telephone and he graciously agreed to read two of his poems for us:
A collage of second-grade poetry. This collage became the cover for our class poetry anthology.
As a final poetry project a few years back, my students and I put together a class poetry anthology. Included in this poetry anthology were typed copies of each child’s poem. This project provided an authentic way to showcase
the final pieces of an entire class of young poets, and this book was a great gift for parents, administrators, and students at the end of the study. Long after the poetry study was over, students, teachers, and family members returned to this anthology on the shelves of classrooms, offi ces, and home libraries. The anthologies I’ve since created with other classes have also been a great model for new classes and new students as we begin the next year’s poetry study. Children learn lots from the writing of their peers, and this book houses class sets of writing by former students of equal age to my new class of students.
White copy paper (8 ½” X 11″)
Glossy photo paper
Computer, digital camera, printer
Fine-tip permanent markers
Colored card stock (enough for the entire class to have a front and back cover oneach individual book)
Plastic ring binding/binding machine
Clear plastic presentation covers (to protect the front and back covers of the anthology)
Color copier (or class donation money to make color copies at local copy center)
Tips and Techniques
*Depending on the age of your students, their profi ciency with word processing, or the time you’ve allotted to this project, you make the decision whether students type their poems or someone else—a parent volunteer, teaching assistant, or teacher—does the typing.
*It’s visually interesting and more appealing to the eye of the reader when every poem is typed in a different font—or a font that matches the mood, tone, or feeling of the piece. It also gives each child more ownership and adds a touch of original quality to each piece.
*Before putting the poems together in book form, each child is given the final typed piece of his or her poem. Since color copying is so expensive, I ask the children to illustrate their pieces like the pictures in a coloring book. We first draw in whisper writing, and then the children outline their pencil drawing in black fi ne-tip permanent markers (so that the illustrations will show clearly on each poem when copied).
*Not only do the children have a typed poem for the anthology, they have also previously published this same exact poem on a poetry poster to hang in the school. This poster was illustrated with watercolor and oil pastels.
*In the years I’ve made the poetry anthology with students, I’ve simplified the project a bit, and rather than writing completely new poems, the students used previously published poetry to be included in the anthology. It’s up to you and your class of students to decide whether you’ll use the same poems published as poetry posters or create entirely new poems for an anthology.
*Through class fund money or parent donations (or me saying it’ll be a tax write-off and paying for the copies myself), we are able to make a color copy of the cover for each child’s anthology.
*After enough copies of the book are made so that each individual student will have his or her own copy, they are bound using the school binding machine with plastic ring binding (found at most offi ce supply stores).
*Each child then has an opportunity to add color inside to each poem or to just a few selected poems. Their color choices for the inside poems make each child’s book unique and personal.
A few weeks ago we shared a poem from Kelly Gallagher’s new book, Write Like This. This week we have another poem from his book, this time from one of his students. Kelly uses the video and poem The Lost Generation as a mentor text for writing reverse poems. Watch the video here and then read what Kelly’s student Rebecca wrote:
Framing My Future
By Rebecca Bausan
My future is in ruins
Therefore I will discard the impression that
I will be able to achieve what others could not
This may be surprising to some but
Education is overrated
I will not accept the concept that
I can make a difference through my education
So I will let others know that
It is not worth it.
Hard work pays off but
I see things differently.
It is apparent that
Beauty and luxury are vastly more important than brains and wisdom
I am completely against the assumption that
Personal achievement will be able to thrive in a world so corrupted
I am certain that
In the future
There will be an increase in college dropouts
It cannot be said that
My peers and I will benefit from a higher education for
Our betterment comes from pleasures of selfishness
It is a false belief that
Success is an option.
All of this will stay a reality unless I choose to reverse it.
We have a special treat on this Poetry Friday. Kate Messner’s poem Revolution for the Tested is inspirational and true and funny in all the right places. Read it. Share it with your students. And, most important of all: live it.
Revolution for the Tested By Kate Messner
But don’t write what they tell you to.
Don’t write formulaic paragraphs
Counting sentences as you go
Put your pencil down.
Don’t write to fill in lines.
For a weary scorer earning minimum wage
Handing out points for main ideas
Supported by examples
From the carefully selected text.
I am going to turn sentimental for a second on this Poetry Friday. I came across this poem as I was trying to decide what to post today and it made me think of all of the Stenhouse babies — Ruby, Sam, and Dean — who are turning two this year.
First, here is the poem by John Updike:
Saying Goodbye to Very Young Children
By John Updike
They will not be the same next time. The sayings
so cute, just slightly off, will be corrected.
Their eyes will be more skeptical, plugged in
the more securely to the worldly buzz
of television, alphabet, and street talk,
culture polluting their gazes’ pure blue.
It makes you see at last the value of
those boring aunts and neighbors (their smells
of summer sweat and cigarettes, their faces
like shapes of sky between shade-giving leaves)
who knew you from the start, when you were zero,
cooing their nothings before you could be bored
or knew a name, not even your own, or how
this world brave with hellos turns all goodbye.
“Writing can be much more than a school task,” writes Kelly Gallagher in his new book Write Like This. “Writing can be used as a vehicle to express ourselves as we negotiate the journey through our lives.” Using Robert P. Tristram Coffin’s poem “Forgive My Guilt” as a model, Kelly asks his students to write a list of thins they regret. His students then choose one item from their list and begin writing. Kelly shares his own version of the poem with his students. Read his poem and then head over the Stenhouse website to preview his book online.
Forgive My Guilt Kelly Gallagher
Not always sure what things called sins may be,
I am sure of one sin I have done.
It was not a single incident, but a series of events,
All involving my sister,
Who eventually lost her battle with drug addiction.
Two siblings, raised in the same household,
But, oh, so different. So different.
It didn’t start that way, of course.
We were close before the drift,
She slowly pulled away from me, from us,
Each year, a little farther away from our childhood
Until the relationship that was, wasn’t.
Walking through stores, at ballgames, in restaurants,
I see young brothers and sisters laughing, playing, talking,
It makes me happy and sad.
I silently wish them well, knowing how things can turn.
I wonder if I should have been kinder,
Whether I should have put my anger aside.
My sadness has lessened, but it never disappears.
I could have offered more love.
I should have offered more love.
Too late now.
But I have hoped for years,
That my sister, Cathy, forgives my guilt.
For this week’s Poetry Friday offering we have a poem AND a history lesson, all in one! This Friday marks the 125th birthday of the Statue of Liberty as a gift from France. Emma Lazarus’ poem The New Colossus with its memorable appeal to “give me your tired, your poor,” was commissioned for a fund-raising campaign by artists and writers to pay for the statue’s pedestal.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Studio Art with Mr. Chruscinski, New Trier High School, 1994
Mr. Chruscinski built eight-foot still lifes
of junk: fabric, bones, dart boards
and we collected, hunched
into paper, hands black with coal,
faces figured madly while he stood
on his desk and bellowed, “draw on
the inside! Cubist, Cubist, Cubist!”
Mr. Chruscinski wore Rockports
and bought ties by the garbage bag
at church rummage sales, drove
his flesh colored Buick wagon to his office,
smoked four cigarettes, drank two cups
of coffee and was on a roll by seven fifteen.
It must have made bus drivers crazy when
Mr. Chruscinski planned field trips—
first Harold Washington Library in the Loop,
a side, side street gallery, Staropolska
on West Belmont for pierogi,
ziemniaki, cheese blitzes and then
down Milwaukee to American Science
& Surplus because “this is art”
Mr. Chruscinski would say and shame
those without drawings for critique
the next day. For him, there was never
“No Homework.” He scoffed at apathy,
sensationalized the “Smudge and Rub.”
He loved to say, “That looks like shit…
I love it,” which was almost as exciting
as when Mr. Chruscinski yelled “de Stihl!”
if you really turned yourself inside out.
He caught me alone in the back of the room,
one day late in May, students crawling
out of their skin to graduate, or at least
loiter in the White Hen parking lot. What inspired
my efforts, I don’t know. I was all over
the page in blue pastel, using the stump
so my lines were thick with the chalk,
and my arms were turning blue too.
Mr. Chruscinski moused his white head
between me and the paper. He looked
at my work, but really at me and said,
“You get it. You. Right now. You’re an artist.”