Friday, May 31, 2013

Where I'm From

Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. 
- Robert Frost 

I was reading the dictionary. I thought it was a poem about everything. 
- Steven Wright 

We have been writing a lot of poetry lately in my second grade classroom. It seems to me that children are pretty fearless at writing poetry – unlike a lot of grown-ups. We adults have some hang-ups about written language. Does it sound right? Does it feel right? Is it conventional enough? Does it reveal too much? At this point in our school year, most children don’t have those same inhibitions. They write for fun. They write to make sense of things. They write to record ideas and share thoughts.        

And we write a LOT. That is one of the biggest changes in the class since the beginning of the year. When I ask the children to write about what they have read in their reading logs – they do. Every day. When I ask them to have a written conversation with a classmate – they do. When I ask them to try out a new form of poetry, to write a book or movie review, to write a letter thanking a docent on a field trip – they do. No whining or complaining. No one says, “I just can’t think of anything to say!” Sure, writing mechanics are still developing, but everyone has become much more fluent and thoughtful writers.

A recent example is when I shared a poem by George Ella Lyon called “Where I’m From”...
...I'm from fudge and eyeglasses, 
from Imogene and Alafair. 
I'm from the know-it-alls and the pass-it-ons, 
from Perk up! and Pipe down!...

I asked the children to write one of their own “Where I’m From” poems and everyone set to work. It didn’t take long for before the children were saying, “Can I read you mine?” and “Listen to this.” We circled up and everyone shared a line or two as we went around the circle. The result was a class poem that was really beautiful. The visitors to our classroom that day were amazed by the fluency and word choice. I was too. I will try to duplicate the poem by sharing bits from all of them. This won’t capture the moment of us creating our classroom poem together, but it may come close.

I am from playing games on game night with my family 
I am from love and hope 
I am from a world of imagination. 
I am from loving to dance and loving to sing 
I am alive and in shape, ready to do things 
I am from fishing with my dad and brother 
I am from two grandmas and one that cooks good food and dessert 
I am from God in my heart 
I am from riding bikes and rescuing dogs 
I am from music – I am from love 
I am from the ball up and down the court 
I am from two annoying and cute and funny sisters 
I am from a pastor – I am from a diva 
and a girly girl 
I am from the beautiful blue skies and the history of family members 
I am from cakes and cookies – a baker I am from 
I am from one athletic father and one amazing mom 
I am from a black and white border collie, flashing here and there 
I am from Earth, sports, friends, family I am from nice and loving parents 
I am from a world of peace and a world 
filled with friends 
I am from a Jewish family 

 Maybe you had to be there, but I think most of the kids feel the power of writing poems. I tried my hand at a "Where I'm From" poem too.  I took myself back to my second grade memories, big family, catholic school, busy suburban neighborhood.  1964.  Merrillville, Indiana - just outside of Gary.  It felt good to remember, to write.  

I am from Ruck and Jack
and a mess of kids
I am from tickling and teasing
and never having to look for a playmate
I am from the suburbs and clotheslines 
and tincan telephones
I am from a long walk to school with 
best friends and brothers
I am from 3 channels on TV 
and an antenna on the roof
From outdoor summer days and catching snakes
and tadpoles, and lizards, and bugs
From a neighborhood of friends and plenty to do
I am from backyard baseball and soccer and 
darknight kick the can
From kites with knotted rag tails and fierce blue skies
I am from forts built in Maysacks Woods and 
Sister Rachel Marie and penmanship
I am from crickets and cicadas and itchy mosquitos
I am from the smell of adult cigars
and motor oil and fresh cut grass
From blowing on dandelion heads and pulling on wishbones
I am from 9 people sitting around a too small table
and "Bless us oh Lord and these thy gifts..."
I am from dogbites and bee stings 
and hazy stars and firefly nights

I can't tell you how good it felt to write this.  I brought me back, you know?  It's not great.  It's not art.  It's just where I'm from.


Nic E said...

What a beautiful post. I loved writing lessons while I was teaching. but sometimes it was like getting blood out of a stone. It didn't matter how much a sang and danced and led the children around the fields to get inspiration or played music or stood and leapt up and down, nothing seemed to work for some of the children. They just had no idea, no imagination. I had a conversation with a teacher who said that she had never had a child who couldn't say anything. Well, I have. Several, in fact. Just couldn't begin to string words together; to describe; to anything. And for some, if I did get something out, it became so excruciating and such an effort that they had no inclination to spend that amount of time thinking. I blame television. I blame computer games. I blame the lack of conversation in the household. I blame a lack of discussion when visiting places. I saw it all the time. And I found it incredibly sad.

But every so often, I would get a gem. Every so often, I would hear something which sent shivers through me. I was lucky: it just so happened that one of the best lessons in literacy I ever taught was when I had my final assessment for teaching. Admittedly I had a very bright class, but we all created a poem about a picture I had brought in. It came together like magic. I still remember it vividly.

And yet, when I write lyrics, I battle with my confidence. This could be because I am friends with too many bloggers who write so beautifully. But I am always left worrying about the words I write. Always.

Goodness, sorry to take up so much comment space!

:) N

Emily said...

So, I can not claim to have been a Robert Frost fan in any part of my past, but I absolutely agree your first quote.

There's some really cool stuff in yogic philosophy about energy (here: emotion) and its progression to finding our words. I think sometimes that kids think that the words are supposed to just be ya have 'em or ya don't...and at least for me as a writer, that is rarely the case. It takes work and time and continuous practice to be enough in the flow for the words to come. Sounds like you've helped your kids to see that they can work toward finding those words. Such a cool time in a classroom.

I was reading through my Facebook wall and came up on an author that I follow. Her name is Cheryl Strayed, and she wrote a book called Wild about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Great read. She does workshops now and posts updates about them. She posted this recently:

"I spent the day onstage in front of nearly 300 people talking, teaching, thinking, and witnessing the power of the silence that nearly 300 people make when they are writing and reaching. That silence is such a beautiful thing. It's like the stars at night in the great alone and you there beneath them, saying thank you."

Thought it was such a great observation. Nice Post.