Monday, June 10, 2013

A Different Kind of Poetry Day

(first published in Outlook)

April was National Poetry Month, and my daughter’s school, Montessori at Sandy Ford, observed the month in fine fashion. Each day that month began with a recitation of a favorite or original poem by one or more of the students. Then the students in grades 1 through 6 learned various forms of and ideas about poetry, were occasionally presented with a poetry prompt, and daily wrote in their “writers’ journals or worked on poems they had previously begun.

I spent every Tuesday of the month teaching poetry workshops to these students. I would read the entire school a poem and then teach workshops on things like paying attention, mind-mapping, imagination, writing about what you know, revising, and the usual concepts of simile, metaphor, rhyme, rhythm, and onomatopoeia.

At the end of the month the entire school gathered for its own version of a Poetry Slam. Tea and muffins were prepared and served by the students (a very Montessori approach), and every student shared at least one poem. Most shared many more. And most were recited rather than read from the page. The energy and excitement about poetry exhibited by the students was unlike any I’ve seen at a reading or slam in the 20 years or so I’ve been attending and conducting such events.

There were the perennial grade school favorites by Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein as well as some not generally categorized as children’s poems by Mary Oliver and E. E. Cummings. My favorites were the ones the children had written themselves. There are only a little more than 2 dozen students at these grade levels in the school, but the readings went on for over two hours and would have gone on longer if not for the necessity of instruction in things like Math and Reading. I think Maggie, Hannah, and Evan Sherrill, Olivia Jarman, Marie and Margaret Erickson, Mati Glynn, Malia Agostinelli, David Schell, and my daughter, Sawyer, would have shared poems all day if they had been allowed to.

I have been asked to come back in the fall and continue our Tuesday morning poetry work. The students are interested in compiling an anthology of their work, and many plan on submitting their poems to contests sponsored by the NC Poetry Society. As part of Poetry Month the students also went on a field trip to the Hickory Museum of Art to try their hand at ekphrastic poetry, and they want to do that again as well.

It is, of course, very gratifying to see this sort of excitement about poetry and to know teachers who appreciate and embrace the role poetry can play in a child’s education and development.

Here are two original poems from the Montessori at Sandy Ford Poetry Slam.

Too Much T for Tea
by Olivia Jarman, grade 4

To, tomorrow, tonight, today.
How many t’s did I just say?
Oh, my, that’s four.
I think we have 22 more.
Talent, team, tic-tac-toe,
tennis, tickle, Tupelo,
toucan, tough, tournament,
tattle, toothache, two-man tent.
Now you know
most of the show.
Let’s see, tractor, train, traffic light,
tremble, tremendous, tricycle,
terror, pterodactyl, tea kettle.
Thank you for having too much tea
with all my favorite words and me.

What If . . .
by Marie Erikson, grade 5

the sky was yellow,
the water was red,
the sun was blue,
the leaves were orange,
the dirt was purple,
the air was green.
What if
sharks could fly,
and birds could swim,
caterpillars turned into frogs
and tadpoles into butterflies.
What about these crazy humans,
you might ask.
Well it might be better
if I don’t explain.

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