Friday, April 29, 2016

Poetry Month Adieu


A few years back, I shared this photo with my students and with you, my readers:

 

I still carry it on my iPad and every now and then, someone will see it and ask where I got the picture. They are always surprised to hear I took it in our own town one day after work.

“I’ve never seen the sky look like that!”

Then there are the times my friends have shared sunset pictures that could easily make the cover of a coffee table book. When they tell me they took the picture the night before, I find it hard to believe I missed it. I was busy cleaning up when I could have been looking up. Sometimes we need a little nudge to catch the beauty around us.

Here’s one sunset I didn’t miss:



Shared beauty might inspire a poem or perhaps the shared beauty will be a poem. Like those found in When Green Becomes Tomatoes, Poems for all Seasons by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Julie Morstad. I loved reading this book with my students.


                                       ,

From her poem

June 10

“ I don’t know much about flowers . . .
but I know how they lean
and bend toward the light
wide open as if singing
their voices (silent but everywhere)
fill up the daytime . . .

Well, I don’t know much about clouds, but I know sometimes they form waves (or dragons, if you have a good imagination), and sometimes they part to let the light shine in.

                          


Poetry can do the same.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Poem in Your Pocket Day

This year, Poem in Your Pocket Day falls on April 21 and my students will be ready with poems for their pockets and more for mine.



It will take a lot of poems to fill this enormous paper pocket but my students have been hard at work, filling it with their favorite poems and original compositions, like this one from a talented second grader:

            I have nothing in my head.
            It’s like an empty bed
            where the fat cat jumped
            to scratch
            and catch.
              
by Tyler

He was still working on it when our session ended but he’s off to a good start.

When I searched for a new poetry collection to share with my students, I came across a book that is especially appropriate for the occasion, A POEM IN YOUR POCKET, by Margaret McNamara, illustrated by G. Brian Karas.

A Poem in Your Pocket (Mr. Tiffin's Classroom Series) by Margaret McNamara

In this appealing story, Mr. Tiffin and his students prepare for an author visit. A famous poet is coming to their school for Poem in Your Pocket Day and the class is writing poems of their own in preparation. Elinor, a high achieving, top-of-the-class-type student, plans to write the perfect poem to read aloud at their assembly. She struggles day after day while piles of crumpled paper mound the floor beside her desk. Her patient teacher reminds her, “ . . . poetry is a messy business.”  

This picture book introduces some tough concepts for my early elementary students, like “simile” and “metaphor.” But they had fun trying to come up with a few:

            “A sunny day is like a sheep. Flowers are like lambs.”
                 Jenna, age 5

            “Hugh is an angry bird.”
                Cooper, age 6
           
            “Thunder is like a roaring lion.”
               Joel, age 7

In the story, when Mr. Tiffin took his class outside to look around with their poet’s eyes, one of his students said,

“Sadness is a cracked sidewalk.”

After hearing that line, Nico leaned in for a closer look at the illustration where a gray shadow touched the jagged line of a crack in a sidewalk. He was so engrossed; I stopped reading to give him a bit more time. A moment later he said, “I have a poem,” and he began to dictate as I wrote,

            Cancer, cancer, cancer,
            Pancer, wancer, cancer
            Can kill you,
            But maybe not!
            Maybe you’ll be a dancer.
              (Nico age 5)

I asked if he knew someone with cancer and he said, “Grandma, but she’s a cancer survivor!” What a big word for a five year old, and also a big concept.

Poetry gave Nico a means of sharing something important. When I read his poem back to him, his face flooded with light; his smile grew wide and his eyes glowed.

I hope you carry poems in your pocket this year and, like Nico, I hope those poems will shine light into the cracks of your sidewalk.


Thursday, March 31, 2016

Welcome to National Poetry Month!


In preparation for this month, our school had a visiting poet working with students in their classrooms. Some kids missed speech sessions because of this and when one student came into my room and I explained why the rest of her group was missing, she wrinkled her nose and said, “I hate poetry!”

Jellyfish, Marine, Purple-StripedJellyfish, Jelly, Fish, Marine


“What?!” My shocked reaction surprised us both. Then I asked, “Have you ever read a poem about a jellyfish?”

“No.”

Do you know what a jellyfish looks like?”

“No.”

I quickly pulled up a video of jellies on my iPad and I had her. Hazel was captivated.

By a lucky turn of events, only moments before Hazel came into my room, I’d read the poem, A Jelly-fish by Marianne Moore. I received this gem by email from the Academy of American Poets because I signed up for their “teach this poem,” a free weekly email for K-12 educators. They provide classroom activity ideas and, in this case, a video of Jellyfish.

When I started reading the poem to Hazel I realized right off we needed a vocabulary lesson. What eight-year old is going to understand every word in these first few lines?

            Visible, invisible,
A fluctuating charm,
An amber-colored amethyst
Inhabits it; your arm
Approaches, and
It opens and
It closes;
            You have meant
To catch it,
And it shrivels;
You abandon
Your intent—
            . . .

I was afraid the challenging vocabulary would cause Hazel to lose interest but I was wrong. When we came to the end of the poem she asked if she could write one about otters. I couldn’t refuse such a request. Take a look at what she produced:

River otters
by Hazel

River otters swim fast!!!!
They glide through the water like a fish.
They are so cute.
If I had a river otter I would feed it every day.
I would take it out of the river and put it in my bed.
My bed would smell like fish sticks!!!!

When she finished her poem she wanted copies for her mom, her teacher, and our school nurse. Her feeling of accomplishment was obvious—and the look on her face—well that was pure poetry.

Happy Poetry Month—may it bring wonderful words and images into your world and into the lives of those around you.

(Check out “teach this poem”: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/teach-poem)