The feeling you get when you're doing something you know is right; when everything confirms that you are where you're supposed to be.
I experienced that acute, wonderful 'rightness' the end of last week when I was a guest poet in our local elementary school's 4th grade class. I ran a 90 minute workshop which resulted in 21 engaged 10 year olds, 21 rich and varied poems, and one extremely happy poet.
I've done workshops like this before, and I always experience that incredible sense of validation. Yes, this is where I'm supposed to be. Yes, this is something I'm meant to do.
When I start planning for a workshop, I am often overly optimistic about what I can pack into a single lesson. It doesn't stop me from believing I can get it all done. This one was no exception. I had initially planned 75 minutes to introduce myself and the lesson, have the students choose words that would create the subject matter, brainstorm with a worksheet, work through a first draft, and get feedback.
This is the lesson I brought to the class. It's adapted from several sources, including this one, as well as from the weekly creativity challenges posted on Wild Poetry Forum.
Lisa Janice Cohen
So much of what we describe and notice is based on what we see. In this exercise, we will focus on what we (or an imaginary character) might hear.
1. Choose an object and a place. The list on the board shows examples and suggestions, but you can pick your own if you like. Please title your poem:
What the ________(Object) in the ________ (Place) Hears
2. List at least 10 things your object might hear.
A. Think about where your object is
In this example poem, I imagined the car parked in the driveway on a rainy night. I could have parked the car at the beach or a ball game. What different kinds of sounds would the car have heard then?
B. Give your object ‘ears’
Cars don’t normally hear things, people do. But use your imagination. I thought that a cat’s purr might sound like a little engine to a car.
C. Find words that have good sound to describe your sounds
In the example poem, I used rumble thump because I liked the way it sounded.
3. Arrange your ‘sounds’ into a poem in any way you like.
4. Revise, revise, revise! Move lines around, swap in strong or surprising verbs for ordinary ones, add new sounds, etc.
What the Parked Car in the Driveway Hears
A cat's engine song as it purrs beneath still wheels.
The plip plip plip of rain drops from a swaying
maple tree. The rumble thump of a rusty
pick up truck. Splish plunk as it hits
the flooded pot hole at full throttle. Sigh
of a storm ending. The echo of a train
whistle howling with a stray dog. A siren
sending its ambulance away. The click
of a porch light, jingle of keys in a lock.
The silent moon shredding clouds.
---Lisa Janice Cohen, 2007
When I am in front of a class, I always experience that momentary dread: this is not going to work. The kids are going to hate it. I have no idea what I'm doing. I'm wasting this teacher's time. And the first 15 minutes of the workshop seem to intensify my fears. The kids are struggling with the concept. They are staring at my worksheet and little gets written down. Several of them write, then quickly erase.
But some brave soul asks a question. It leads to a discussion about what it means to write something 'good.' And I tell them that each of them has an original voice and something different to say. That if they ask me 'Is this good?', I'll respond with 'Do you like it?' That breaks the ice.
Pencils scribble furiously.
In another 10 minutes, they have the raw materials for their poems.
20 minutes later, I am reading first drafts that stun me.
The students are asking me for feedback. They are drinking it in like water. They are returning to their desks and their pencils and working through revisions.
75 minutes are quickly coming to an end, but the students want to share. I ask the teacher about stealing a little more time and she graciously agrees. Most of the students are not comfortable with reading their own work aloud, but they all want their poems to be heard, so I read almost all of the 21 poems to an attentive, rapt audience.
A few brave souls decide to read their own.
It is a magical experience. No fidgeting, no cross talk, just 21 students listening intently, savoring these words on a page. The applause at the end is spontaneous and goes on for some minutes.
When I leave, I feel as if I have left a little part of my love of words with each of these 21 students. I have given them some of my time, and a structured lesson to follow. But they have given me so very much more.
Thank you, 4M, and thank you Miss. M. Being in your classroom was an honor.