Thursday, March 12, 2015

Poetic Connections

My hours at school this week have been filled with poetry. My tenth grade students are pulling ideas from their Writer's Notebooks to polish into pieces to submit for publication next week, and many of them are revising poems. For the past few days, I've been listening in on conversations about word choice and line breaks. Does this sound right, or am I forcing the rhyme? I love these rhetorical collaborations, hearing students thinking deeply about word choice.

When we had an opportunity to Skype with the senior editor at TeenInk Magazine today, my students and I learned about how works are selected for publication. And being the English teacher that I am, I asked a question about the importance of correct grammar versus the quality of composition. It was refreshing (and validating) to hear the senior editor of a publication, Ms. Stephanie Meyers, state that "It's not that grammar doesn't matter, but it's about the story being told." A work can have perfect grammar and syntax but lack heart, lack spirit and soul.  Along with her group of editors, Ms. Meyers stressed that TeenInk looks for works that carry a strong voice.  Spelling and proof-reading mistakes can be corrected with editing, but a poem that lacks a nuanced perspective, lacks a distinct voice, is much more difficult to correct. Our hearts are moved by poetry that speaks to the stories that lie within us. Poetry begs for connection. Our job as writers (and as teachers of writing) is to use our words to realize those connections, and remember that grammar is only a part of the equation. The power of poetry lies in the artistry of crafting connections.

And it's this connection between poetry and art that my Creative Writing students also spent time exploring today.  I spent a good amount of time in front of the copy machine blowing up fingerprints.  Earlier I had my high school students rub a pencil across their thumb, darkening it with lead. Then, taking a piece of clear tape, students carefully pressed their print onto the tape, and sealed their print to an index card. This is why I was standing in front of the copy machine. I took each student's fingerprint and blew it up 500 percent until their unique mark looked as though it may have been left by some ancient giant.  Our Writer's Notebook prompt today was:

Start with where you began. 
Where does your story start? 
Wind into the moments that have shaped your life. 
Have there been twists and turns that have helped you become the person you are today? 
Then, weave your way into what you want to be. 
What will be your mark on this world?

Students started in their Writer's Notebook crafting their story. Then, laying a bright white sheet over top of their photocopied print, used the lines of their fingerprint as a map upon which to write the lines of their story.
But this was only our opening activity, our first creative connection. Next, I asked my Creative Writing students to take a look at the Times Magazine's “Picture and a Poem” series where a contemporary artist is asked to create a visual representation of a poem. The two works together help the reader to understand both creative pieces in a new light. Sifting through our poetry books, student selected works from Walt Whitman to Lao Tzu, from Shel Silverstein to Edgar Allan Poe. Then, using either digital tools or by putting pen to paper, student found creative ways to illustrate their poems.  Some used Canva and Animoto, while others illustrated and inked their creative interpretations of their selected poems. Throughout our class today, students connected their rhetorical choices in visual composition to those written rhetorical decisions made by the original poet. 
It has been a day filled with poetic connections!
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