Poetry In Action from The New York Times Book Review
E.B. White on Why He Wrote Charlotte’s Web, Plus His Rare Illustrated Manuscripts via brainpickings.org
Aside from noting a few things that popped into my Twitter feed, I haven’t done very much work this summer. July is largely mine. However, the idea that I’d start to meander back into teacher mode in August was always there. I’d do some planning, and resume my regular writing here.
So, imagine my joy as August began, and a clear choice for my first mentor text post of this school year rolled across my Twitter feed. I’m sure a lot of you saw it, as it was retweeted by various members of the Moving Writers community. The New York Times Book Review published an awesome mentor text set – poets’ annotated drafts of their work. I was really excited by this.
I was also reminded of something I had seen long ago at a workshop – an early draft of Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. I remembered loving the idea of showing my writers that draft of White’s, and my excitement around this Times post was much the same.
This was a readymade mentor text set to facilitate the discussion around revision!
How We Might Use These Texts:
Revision – While I adore the flexibility that writing on a computer affords us, I’ve been doing this long enough to see a change that has cropped up in student writing habits. I totally understand it too.
See, when we write something on a device, it looks so damned perfect! When we print it out, it’s beautiful. It looks professional and polished!
And it’s really hard to mess with that sometimes, isn’t it?
What I feel these mentor texts offer us is a simple case of show, not tell. Write there on the page in these pieces, we see these poets having conversations wih their work, scratching lines, changing words, in short, doing all the things we’d like to see our writers doing!
Note how Eduardo C. Corral’s draft is covered in questions. What if our writers were tasked with putting those questions right on a draft? Could this be a step in peer editing? Notice his note to himself about the shape of the poem, instructing himself to check out a mentor text to see if that makes an impact.
I love Jenny Zhang’s commentary below her draft. “While writing this poem, I indulged my pettiness, and in revising, I did my best to pull back.” This is a message I want to share with my writers too. I plan to have them writing about social justice issues, which may inspire a visceral, emotional response. I love the idea of the “vomit draft” which gets all that on the page. It is in the revision stage that we move past the unfiltered emotion, and work to clearly communicate our ideas.
I especially appreciate how Marie Howe shares multiple drafts. I really want students to see that writing is a process, writing and revision. Multiple drafts of a piece should be expected sometimes.
I also like the idea of throwing the White draft in here to add some variety, as it is not poetry. My analog soul also loves that White’s draft is handwritten. It seems as if the perfect nature of word processing has come into the realm of the notebook, and I have more writers insistent on having a perfect notebook. I want to see them editing these pieces too, even if we’re making photocopies to mark up.
Revision is a challening thing for many of our students. Technology gives us beautiful looking pieces that we don’t want to mess up. Perhaps they look like the pure gold that they feel has burst forth from their fingertips. This makes it so much more important to have a mentor set such as this with which to model this important process.
What mentor texts, or other strategies, do you use to encourage revision? Do you have any other examples like these to share with our writers?
Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy!