Thursday, February 13, 2014

Pupils Ponder Poetry Prompts, Producing Poignant Poetry

          Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins--one of my favorite poets--wrote a poem called "Walking Across the Atlantic," in which he imagines on two levels what it would be like to walk across the ocean. On one level, he is "checking for whales, waterspouts" and feeling "the water holding up my shifting weight," and on another level, he tries "to imagine what/ this must look like to the fish below,/ the bottoms of my feet appearing, disappearing." My student, A.Y., age 11, connected with this poem's dual perspectives and wrote his own poetic response, "Running to Heaven."

Running to Heaven
by A.Y.

On the night of July 4th,
I ride a firework into the sky,
As it booms,
I leap onto a cloud,
I feel the spinning air and water supporting me as I run to heaven.
Soon, I'll sleep on a silk bed in heaven,
but for now,
I can only think about what passing-by birds think
when they see two suns above them,
one running towards the other.

I see those two suns, too--and one star writer

Another student, D.S., 10 years old, wrote a poem in response to "Victory in Defeat," by Edwin Markham, an poem about the irony that "Defeat may serve as well as victory/ To shake the soul and let the glory out." Markham's words touched my student's heart, and made him deem the poem a "kind of oxymoron." The student found the last line especially poignant: "Sorrows come to stretch out spaces in the heart for joy." How Markham's poem moved and inspired this young writer seems apparent in his own poem, "Constructive Criticism."

Constructive Criticism
by D.S.

Criticism may serve as well as praise
To make the words and story greater.
When the stern schoolmaster is lecturing,   
The student is driven to prove himself better.
Only the writer who knows the pain of criticism
Can really know the feeling of greatness.
The hurt comes to make space for will and determination
For him to be one of the greats.

I, by the way, am NOT the "stern schoolmaster," though I actually did give this poet some constructive criticism before I typed his work here. My criticism, however, was very minor: one misspelling--of "criticism"; one use of "that" where "who" belonged (which the student corrected by himself after I marked it with highlighter and asked what needed fixing); and  one nonspecific pronoun easily remedied by a simple deletion. The only reason I'm even mentioning these amendments is to prove that: 1) even a poem this amazing wasn't "perfect" the first time around; and 2) this writer is certainly poised "to be one of the greats." 

Please leave your comments for my students in the comments section below.