Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Mash-Ups Aren't Just for Music: Rewritten Endings Can Make Good Beginnings

     Many music editors and musicians-in-training create mash-ups--the blending of two songs with similar or complementary musical patterns to create a mix that reflects the essences and common aspects of both pieces, and often enhances each piece via juxtaposition (side-by-side contrast).  Creating mash-ups is not something non-musicians do to seem like musicians; they must have an ear for layering and overlapping riffs, and an understanding of the feel of a musical composition to create a successful mash-up.
     Since poems are just spoken songs without distinct melodies--but with distinct rhythms!--I decided to allow my aspiring poet students the chance to make a mash-up of poetry, using one of my own poems, finished in a new way, their way. (You can do this with any poem that moves you, as long as you credit the original poet and don't try to sell your new "collaboration.") My poem, "Intimidation," presents an scene in an office, between a person of power (a boss, a teacher, a mentor) and a person who needs his/her help. The  person needing help reveals the growth of his/her intimidation in the face of the powerful person's arrogant coldness, and he/she leaves the office clearly feeling lower than before. I asked my students to alter the ending, removing the last few lines and replacing them with words of empowerment, words that will allow the narrator to reject the feeling of intimidation. Their new endings would function like mash-ups, or remixes, in music, creating a surprising new meaning from the blend of the two parts, while maintaining the rhythm. Students responded very well to this chance to build upon and alter my poem, and to virtually "get revenge" on all of the adults who have intimidated them in the past. Some turned the poem into a story, featuring Description, Action , and Dialogue (my "D.A.D. technique for writing word pictures"). I could almost hear the lines of my poem between their dialogue lines. (I might even try that idea, an overlapping reading of the poem with the story, for another class!)

     Below is my student B.C.'s mash-up/collaboration/remix of "Intimidation," featuring his new lines (highlighted) at the end. This sample was one of the best examples I can share with you because he maintained the tone and style, and then he wrote a thoughtful, essay-style, reflection paragraph (something I like having my older students do after many assignments) to round out the learning process. The paragraph follows the poem.

Intimidation Remix
by B.C., a 9th grader

I come in big.
I have questions I want answered.
I sit down.
You look down.
You lean back in your chair
and look over the top of your glasses.
You raise your eyebrows at me.
“And?” you say.
“So?” you say.
I fidget.
I stammer.
I blurt, “Uh, thank you for your time,”
and rise shakily.
You remain seated.
You look down at me above you.
I stop and think
I recompose my self
and say “No.”
I stand taller
and remember my purpose
I leave big,
bigger than you.

B.C.'s reflections on this assignment (using the given quotation by Eleanor Roosevelt)
A wise woman once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”  Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the most famous first ladies, is saying that people feel inferior because of themselves, by believing in what other people say or how other people are treating them.  In addition, in Intimidation Remix by Susan Lipson and Brian Chung, they write, “I stand taller and remember my purpose.  I leave big, bigger than you.”  They are saying that no one can control your life but yourself and that you should be proud of who you are.  All in all, people should remember that even though there are billions of people, they are still special and they should live the way they want, without people telling or commanding them how to live.  They should also be happy and joyful, and remember that only they can control their attitude and self-worth.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Noticing the Spark that Fans the Flames

          When my 10-year-old student looked up from the story he was writing, grinned, and declared, ” I just noticed that my character is becoming a very paranoid person," I realized that he is not just a writing student anymore. He "noticed" his character's transformation as though it were being revealed to him by his Muse. That, in my mind, is the sign of a real writer.

          A couple posts ago, on my "Writing Memorable Words" blog, I interviewed some successful children's novelists about how they know when a character has truly come to life on the page. They offered pearls worth reading and then pondering as you read your own words. I could have added this boy's delighted observation to that post. 

          Here's a poem, about--and inspired by--noticing

by S. L. Lipson

notices a spark
and then a glow
at his pencil's tip,
as embers spread,
   amazing his eyes,
while burning designs 
that describe and
define and engulf
the page, as well as
his imagination,
new beings
and worlds,
as if he

Monday, January 6, 2014

Trees Provide Inspiration as Well as Paper!

Yes, we often write on paper, provided by generous trees, who give their lives for our memorable, vivid words. But trees can provide inspirations for such words, too!

The following song, soon to be posted as a recording on my website, celebrates the tree as an example for living by viewing trees in figurative terms, through double-meanings, metaphors, and symbols. After reading the lyrics, think of some other part of Nature that offers us a role model as inspiring as a tree. Maybe you will write about mountains or streams, oceans or clouds, rainbows or flowers, bees, birds, butterflies, animals…the list is as broad as your imagination!

If Everyone Lived Like the Tree

A song by Susan L. Lipson © 2003

Oh, how much better off we’d be,
If everyone lived like the tree!  [Repeat]

Reaching upward, toward the Light,
Even during the darkest night,
Standing firmly upon our ground,
As each new season comes around.

We always value our deep, strong roots,
Just as much as our new, green shoots.
Limbs extended, we all embrace
All of the Earth and all in space.

Oh, how much better off we’d be,
If everyone lived like the tree! [Repeat]

Broadening while we’re heightening,
Though stormy weather is frightening,
We grow by giving to our Earth,
Showing how much our lives are worth.

We give far more than we receive,
Living upright until we leave;
We blossom proudly, and don’t feel shame,
When buds and trunks are not the same….

Oh, how much better off we’d be,
If everyone lived like the tree! [Repeat]

We dance with earthquakes and in monsoons,
Branches catching harsh winds as tunes,
And while they whistle, we all conduct,
Waving limbs as our leaves are plucked.

We offer shelter, and food, and shade,
And only ask for respect in trade,
We weather seasons so gracefully,
Happy to live life like a tree.

Oh, how much better off we’d be,
If everyone lived like the tree! [Repeat]

If everyone lived like the tree!
If everyone lived like…
         the tree!