Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Sound of Poetry

Every morning at the RIWP Summer Institute, we write. We arrive, greet one another, grab a snack, set a time to return to the table, and settle into a new or favorite spot with our handmade journal and pen. Sometimes we get a prompt, but recently there has been no direction. This is liberating, but as someone who has always been good at following rules, this can cause major writer’s block. My best writing is usually what I HAVE to write - because it’s something itching to get out and be processed or when an audience needs something from me. This is why reflective writing and analytical writing are my strengths.

Poems and stories, not so much.

I shared this tendency of mine with a friend in the SI and he reminded me that I should use this class as an opportunity to push myself and do things I wouldn’t normally do, including writing in genres that I’m not as comfortable with.

So yesterday, when I wasn’t sure what I wanted to explore, I sought some inspiration in poetry. I figured I could find a quick poem and write a brief response. But the friend’s voice popped into my head and told me I should try to write some poetry myself. Which scared me. I’m not a poet. My metaphors are all cliche. I want to be authentic, not seem like I’m trying too hard. Which sent me back to student mode. I was good at school because I was able to imitate the writing of others. I could see the structure and adapt it to my needs. I used mentor texts before I knew what a mentor text was...and before Kelly Gallagher wrote a book about it. Despite my self-induced panic, I realized what I had to do.

I scrolled through my Twitter feed and found the link to The Writer’s Almanac, a website that publishes a poem and some literary facts every day, and found “The Sound of Sunlight” by Todd Davis. His poem’s lines were short and I liked the idea of defining something (the sound of sunlight) by something other than itself (the sound of a wren singing or a coyote hiding, etc. - considering sunlight doesn’t actually make a sound). I read through the poem a few times, and basically played madlibs. I retained the structure and the parts of speech, but replaced the nouns and verbs to hack Todd’s idea into my own. We only had thirty minutes, so this is what I drafted:

The Sound of Poetry

On the far side
of the classroom
are scratching
over one
like feet
to chase
a ball.

A reluctant student
a sigh
while another
mid sentence
before flipping
to a clean sheet.

As we descend
into our thoughts
we look
and witness
the shadow
of a moment
the moment

Behind us
in the courtyard
where we gaze
each snowstorm
the fall
of the flakes
the sound
of poetry
and allows us
to write
in a flood
of inspiration.

Regardless of the quality of the poem I created, I am really glad I pushed myself to do this. It’s so easy to stay comfortable and do what you’re good at, but I was reminded of how my students feel when they are assigned a task that is challenging or seems like more than they want do. By imitating the structure of the poem, I paid way closer attention to how it was constructed and have a much better appreciation for the author’s work. I made more meaning from the poem by the time I finished writing than I would have if I had just glanced over it once and answered a few of my teacher’s questions about it. I was reminded of the importance of just putting an idea into another person’s head. As a teacher, you never know how a gentle word or two might inspire a student (or colleague). Also, I am really grateful for the feedback I received from the group, reminding me that I wasn’t just “stealing.” I wrote a poem that only I could write.