Every Tuesday writers share a Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers. Please join in if you are so inclined. You can read more slices here. Thank you to Tara, Anna, Dana, Stacey, Betsy and BethWhen it comes to reading and writing the steps toward understanding are complex and frustrating. As teachers we try to guide our students to discover words that make meaning on the page. We want to find joy and excitement in words. What they mean and how to use them; to understand why the writer choose that word. To use just the right words when talking, writing, thinking. We are always looking for the just the right formula to inspire our students to be passionate readers and writers.
Complicated. How to access these words so they make meaning not just as we read but as we write? And not just reading the word in a sentence, not just using the word in writing, but understanding the specificity of that word. Knowing that that word and no other word is just the right word. Poetry seems to be one way to work toward all of these goals.
We have been reading poetry, one a week. Now we are going to write. Knowing this was my plan, knowing my students would be scared, knowing I felt the same, knowing I had to start somewhere, I started with forms that have constraints and rules. Those places I felt like I could be sure it was poetry because it “fit” a definition. Erasure felt safe as did found poetry, book spine poetry, haiku, tanka, cinquain all good. It was playing with words.
Chris Lehman’s #teacherpoets workshop was a next step. It was a less safe place, but how could I not go: great lessons, great poems, amazing teacher poets all around. I pushed myself a bit further to that internal place where emotions lie. (silent scream) I listened, did the lesson, wrote a poem.
Days later, I looked back at that poem I had written. Oh it was painful. It didn’t do what I wanted it to do. It was repetitive and trite. I revised and revised. I revised to the point of having no poem at all. As the screen held fewer and fewer words, I thought soon it will be as if I didn’t write anything at all. Which hurt because it meant the meaning of my poem, the emotion I felt didn’t exist. I closed the screen. Thinking bad thoughts. The next day I read this comment from Catherine Flynn:
Your poem is the opposite of Laux’s “On the Back Porch” and it perfectly captures the bittersweet feelings we have as we realize our children are growing up and are ready to begin their own lives. I love this image of shifted furniture “leaving empty spaces uncovering indentations of what was there.” The perfect sliver to capture this big, important topic!
Then I reread this one from Cathy Mere:
To me, your poem speaks of our children growing up and we have to let go. Perhaps it is because that is exactly where I am right now. “Choices, that are no longer mine to make.” “Photo flash” of the times we’ve shared together.
Oh the power of a comment. A comment that is a whole paragraph and specifically says what spoke to them. Revision is a painful process. You just want to throw it all away and say it’s just too hard and I’m really not that good anyway. But IF there is one little voice that says, no, don’t do that. This is good BECAUSE….The writer can rise again and pull out the writing.
Taking this lesson to my teaching self and back to where I began this post: the secret formula, the gift we can give our students, might just lie in the compliment that is specific. The compliment that says just what is good and why. That plus a little nudge and maybe they won’t crumple up the paper and say they are not good. Maybe they’ll say, really? Open up the notebook and give it a go.
Thank you Catherine and Cathy for your specific comments.on that poem. I’m working on it.
And to all who comment on Slice of Life posts, I can’t thank you enough. You are my writing teachers that keep me opening up my notebook.