Friday, September 13, 2013

POETRY in the Speech Room

I had a pleasant surprise when I opened the September issue of POETRY magazine. This subscription, published by the Poetry Foundation, is a splurge that always brings me joy; the latest issue brought more than usual. When I peeled off the wrapping I discovered Lemony Snicket was the featured writer. 

Just looking at that name on the cover made me smile. I immediately turned to his essay and read Mr. Snicket’s own words,

“Poetry is like a curvy slide in a playground—an odd object, available to the public—and, as I keep explaining to my local police force, everyone should be able to use it, not just those of a certain age.”

The next day, I brought the magazine to school to share with my students. I read parts of Lemony’s essay to groups of five, six and seven year olds. When I came to the part where he said, (speaking of his collection,)

“The only things that all the poems have in common is that they are all strange in some way, because all great literature is strange, the way all good slides are slippery.”

Joden took exception to Mr. Snicket’s comment. “Except out in Wiggly Giggly Park when the slide is wet and you don’t slide very well.”

I suppose you can get stuck on a good poem in much the same way you get stuck on a good slide after the rain. And if a slide is wet, you are likely to get soggy pants, as Landen pointed out—but I’m not sure how that ties into poetry. It probably does. I’ll need to contemplate that awhile before I find clarity.

After we read a few of Lemony Snicket’s comments, we moved on to the poetry he’d chosen for his collection. The kids loved them. One they especially enjoyed was Auto-Lullaby by Franz Wright. The poem begins with the lines:

            Think of a sheep
            knitting a sweater;

It continues on with an engaging rhythm and rhyme for five child-friendly stanzas, but I don’t want to infringe on his copyright so I’ll stop there. By the end of the poem, my students wanted to try their own hand at writing poetry. Actually, they voiced their poetry. Their writing skills are still in the primitive stage so they dictated their attempts and I scratched out the words as fast as I could, trying to keep up with the words pouring out from students all around my speech-room table. They were inspired. 

We worked together to bring a little order to the words, practicing rhyming and comparing the rhythm of their lines to those of Franz Wright. By the time we finished, these are the lines our groups created:

            Think of a squirrel
            riding a poodle
            they fall in a ditch
            and eat a big strudel.

            Think of a Team-Rex (I think he meant T-rex but we let it stand as spoken.)
            going down the toilet
            and eating a duck
            before he could boil it.

Think of a bird
            flying to the sun
in a tiny bird rocket
while eating a bun.

He ate way too much
and his tummy popped
then he fell back to earth
and did a birdy hop.

Think of a dog
who writes a blog
and when he’s done
he wakes his dad up and drinks a glass of cold milk.

When Zayd dictated the last stanza, the other kids noticed he’d altered the rhythm and rhyming scheme, but no one wanted to change a word. They felt it was perfect just the way it was. And I had to agree.

The students are grateful to Lemony Snicket for collecting these poems and in appreciation they decided to work together to create one last poem, just for him.

Lemony Snicket
Got stuck in a thicket
He found a gray cricket
And decided to lick it.

Thank you Franz Wright, Poetry Foundation, and Lemony Snicket for inspiring our young writers.


  1. Jeannie, the kids had a wonderful time hearing the rhyming words and talking about these fun poems. Thanks for bringing these to these great young students! Lorie W.

  2. Thank you for inviting me into your classroom and for dropping by my blog!

  3. What wonderful poems the children wrote! Keep inspiring! Thanks so much for sharing.

  4. Great post Jeanette - I was literally laughing out loud beginning with your description of the glee you experienced when you unwrapped the magazine, to the quote from Lemony Snicket about the slide and the police, to pondering about the wet slide! lol Your students did a GREAT job coming up with their poem. It's fantastically quirky and funny! Thanks so much for sharing in the Kid Lit Blog Hop. Now if we could only get Lemony Snicket to read your poem. Hmmmm....

    1. I wish we could get him to read it. The students would love to know their words had been seen by THE Lemony Snicket!

  5. Oh my the poem that the kids wrote is so well written! Kudos to you and the kids :) Looks like Lemony Snicket did more than he intended and left all of you inspired! I can't wait to find out more about the magazine "Poetry". Thanks for bringing it to our attention on Kid Lit Blog Hop!
    -Reshama @

    1. The poem was a group effort. One of the students took a copy home because he wants to add some art work. He intends to turn it into a book. I can't wait to see what he brings back to school!

  6. You sound like a fun teacher. And your kids have picked up on what makes a good poem (at least in my books) and that is a poem that has me scrounging for a pencil and paper to join in on the fun.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I must admit - I have a lot of fun with my students. They never fail to inspire me.

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