Why did no one warn me that refreshing the list of poems I draw from to inspire my first-year writers would be so hard? It is a joyful thing that without even working at it I was able to generate a list of 38 poems that speak to me in the voices I want my students to hear and join in conversation. But now as I plan the final weeks of writing with my students there are still so many wonderful poems to explore (and I added a new poem to the list today, I cannot be stopped). I stand by my choice in earlier weeks to select one specific poem for my students to view through multiple lenses (see here and here), but now I find myself wondering just how many poems we can write to in 75 minutes. I really think it can’t be more than three but I currently have five open in tabs that have made me laugh and cry and clutch my chest as the poets read my heart. Why did no one warn me this would be so hard?
This week we are kicking off our “What If” unit by exploring our origin stories. On Tuesday I introduced the unit’s origin story and we engaged in three rounds of writing that I have used in previous years including our personal What If or butterfly moments, the places of our heart in response to Knoxville, Tennessee by Nikki Giovanni, and the food stories of our family and friends in response to In Praise of Okra by January Gill O’Neil.
Last week I sifted the new poems into the five writing themes my students and I will explore over the remaining weeks of the semester for which I am thankful, but I can already tell that future me will not thank today me. I began preparing my Thursday writing invitation with 10 poems and so far I have only crossed one poem off the list as I simply moved four poems from this week’s list to future weeks. I am so bad at this!
Even with that cowardly selection process I am still left with five amazing poems to help my students explore their origin stories:
Each poem offers such interesting images, ideas, and questions to explore about our origin stories:
- I love that closing line of Hearing Wolves Through the Dark Pines as a writing invitation: What have you been afraid of all your life? Digging into that story could be writing gold.
- Poem offers such a vivid description of the author as a child with all possible futures still available and this offers multiple entry points worth exploring.
- I’m drawn to If Being a Man Allowed for Emotion in so many ways. I love the title theme alone, but it is also a powerful exploration of family, love, and loss with some amazing metaphors. Of course, it might destroy us all because I cannot read it without choking up.
- Remember is amazing and I love Joy Harjo so much I snuck in a few lines of Perhaps the World Ends Here on Tuesday. I love the rhythm the poem and the connection this poem offers us as readers. It really is a great origin story poem.
- South Side is just delicious and offers so many delightful inspirations for students as they consider both where they are from but who they are from.
What poems speak to you as a writer? At this moment, Thursday’s lesson is a cowardly exhibition where I did not choose and in fact added in another poem because, as previously noted, I cannot be stopped!
I adapted our usual opening ritual to use Fasano’s closing line about fear, will write a round each to explore Byas and Ward’s poems, and then do a combo “remember” writing round offering up both Poem and Remember. Then we will mine our writing for the day to attempt a haibun using Summer Haibun as a model.
How many blog posts do others need about using poetry in comp class? Is anyone else interested in my journey to find the One Poem to Rule Them All or other poetic invitations? Have I taken my metawriting about teaching writing using poetry too far?