Mentor Text Wednesday – TV Poetry

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 9.55.05 AMMentor Text: The Twin Peaks poetry of Liz Worth

Writing Techniques:

  • Poetry
  • Manipulating existing text for creative purposes
  • Pop culture analysis
  • Creative response
  • Editing


I’ve already admitted to how I feel about magazines in this column. They’re these wonderful collections of information and inspiration that call to me on a regular basis. I read them, flagging things that will wind up in the classroom.

When I decided that I would dedicate the remaining posts of April to poetry mentor texts, I realized that I flew out of my classroom on Friday afternoon without any poetry books at all. Which left me wracking my brain for a possible poetic mentor text for the column.

Magazines to the rescue, specifically Maissonneuve, quite possibly my favorite Canadian magazine. I looked at the current issue sitting on my desk, and remembered that somewhere, I have an issue with a sticky note poking out, marking Liz Worth’s Twin Peaks poetry. (Full disclosure, I think that issue may be in the general vicinity of my desk at school.) I remember reading those poems, and thinking, as I often do, “I can use this in class…”

Twin Peaks Lemire
Twin Peaks Fan Art by Jeff Lemire

Luckily, I was able to find Worth’s blog. I spent some time reading the poetry there, and though I never watched Twin Peaks, I found the poetry and the process Worth used fascinating. As it reads on her blog: “Rewriting Twin Peaks scripts as poetry. Each poem will be put together using only words and phrases from its specified script.” As a fan of found poetry, Austin Kleon’s Newspaper Blackouts, and Golden Shovel poetry, this just seemed like a great fit for my classroom. I mean, this poem, “Bobby Briggs, they’re looking for you” based upon the pilot episode pulls me in in that special way that poetry often does.

Bobby Briggs

There’s imagery and emotion. The automobile imagery, in particular, is powerful for me, connecting “cruising speed” to emotion. And I’m reading this as someone who’s not watched the show. I can’t help but wonder how this reads to a fan.

How We Might Use Them:

Poetry — Poetry, I find, is one of the most divisive things that we do with students. Some students love it, some hate it. Perhaps that’s the reason that I love poetry like this so much. It gives students not only a form to follow, but it gives them words to play with. The task of writing poetry is so often met with a chorus of “I can’t…” is it not? In this kind of poetry, like found poetry, blackouts and Golden Shovels, it’s less a matter of writing than manipulation. There’s a sense of play in this kind of writing. It’s gateway poetry. Students think strongly about word choice, because that’s exactly what they are doing – using someone else’s words to communicate their ideas.

This model of poetry, however, need not be limited to TV scripts, but any longer text would do – films, novels, short stories, articles… any of these things could be mined for words and phrases to construct poems like this.

Manipulating Existing Text for Creative Purposes —  Austin Kleon often speaks of remixing things. That’s what these poems read like to me. Using something you admire and appreciate to create your own thing. This is a wonderful form of homage. Clearly, Worth is a fan of Twin Peaks, and this is her way of creating within that world. I think of many of our writers that struggle to create “from the ground up.” A mentor text like this gives them something that may feel like a more realizable goal to meet. Again, i use the phrase “gateway poetry,” because I think if we can get our writers creating this way, then we may open a path for them to write other, more original pieces.

Pop Culture Analysis — Most of our students watch TV. Many argue that we are actually living in a new golden age of television, and I’m not sure I disagree. There’s a lot of great storytelling happening. I use that fact in my classroom, using TV, as well as film, and music, to teach many aspects of literature and writing. They are texts, whether we like it or not.

This was actually my initial thought for using Worth’s poetry in class, as a method of analyzing pop culture texts. If a student sits down with an episode of a show, or its script to pull phrases from, they’re going to be looking closely at it. I would then instruct them to use the words and phrases to create poetry that serves as an analysis, or a commentary on the episode.

In March, I did a Haiku Month, in which my students were tasked with writing a haiku each day, for a month. One student wrote a few of his while watching The Walking Dead, and those haiku actually wound up being great little nuggets of analysis and criticism. I see poems like Worth’s serving a similar purpose.

Tone would be discussed as well. Though I’ve not seen Twin Peaks, I’m pop culture savvy enough to know what the tone of it is. As far as I can tell, Worth captures that.

Creative Response — I’m adding this to the file of tools I have to get students to respond to what they’ve read, or viewed, creatively. As we finished up Of Mice and Men and A Midsummer Night’s Dream last month, students were crafting Illustrated Blackout poems and Golden Shovels using those texts. I have visions of students reading with sticky notes beside them, flagging words and phrases that they’d then jot in their notebooks to create poetry about the text they read. I’d love to have them capture elements, or scenes from the text in poetic form. Often, the discussion about poetic processes like this gives you, as a teacher, incredible insight into what the student is thinking about the text.

Editing — Looking closely at a writer’s word choice is valuable. We often spend time discussing the moves they make. Remix poetry like this allows a different avenue for this. When you’re reading a text, looking for phrases to inspire and use in your own creation, you’re likely going to read much closer as a result.

This is to say nothing of the editing process that goes into creating one’s own work in poems like this. Much like found poetry, or blackout poetry, poems like these would have students working with “limited” text. They can’t just add the words that aren’t there. Instead, they need to find ways to say what they want with what they’ve got. This means careful consideration of word choice. Also, since it’s poetry, they’re likely going to be focused on brevity to a certain extent. If they’re tasked with creating poems that say something about the source material, then they need to make sure that the words and phrases they’ve chosen do that, and are on message.

I know that writing activities like these are challenging for some teachers to run with. The use of others’ work feels, well, a strange combination of wrong and lazy. I get that. However, I also feel that any activity that engages students in wordplay, and creative creation may be an important first step on the path to original creations. I also think that it’s a great chance to have a conversation about inspiration, as well as an important conversation about giving credit to those that inspire us.

What other uses could you see for these TV poems? Do you know of other poetry activities that use existing source material? What are your “gateway poetry” activities?


Find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy


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