Mentor Text Wednesday: Poets Respond

Mentor Texts: The Poetry of Poets Respond, via Rattle Magazine

Writing Techniques:

  • Responding to current events
  • Finding Inspiration
  • Poetic Form

Background:

This post has been at the back of my mind for a while now. It’s not the first time I’ve written here about how our classrooms are places that we have to deal with the troubling things that our world puts in front of us. I openly advocate having poets and poetry journals in your social media feed. I do, and it’s a rich resource. One of my favorite follows is @RattleMag. There are many wonderful poems and poets peppered throughout my feed as a result of this follow, but there’s a wonderful strategy there that I want to mine as well.

 

Once a week, they publish a poem under the banner Poets Respond. The intention is that a poet is able to respond to events in the world within the past week. This is a concession to the “age of information” on their part, as they have a lengthy period of time between issues. I love their selection criteria, “Our only criterion for selection is the quality of the poem; all opinions and reactions are welcome.”

 

I stand by my opinion that poetry, and other forms of writing are important ways for our students to work through their opinions and ideas about things that are challenging. Poets Respond is what this looks like in practice outside of a classroom, in the “real world” where our writers live.

How We Might Use These Texts:

Responding to Current Events – I firmly believe that our notebooks, and the practice of putting pen to paper is one of the best ways we can show students to respond to the things that happen in the world. Perhaps they simply purge emotion onto the page. Perhaps they do little but pose questions they can’t answer. Maybe they struggle with reasoning and rationales that are beyond them.

It might be messy, and it will likely be raw, but it will likely be a valuable experience. I can see using this as a way to think things through. If that’s the case, we may not revisit these pieces.

However, with more time to think after their initial writing, it might be valuable to have them come back to these pieces – to revisit the raw material and emotion they got out earlier. Has a passage of time changed their feelings? Do they have a better understanding? Do they have more questions? The piece can be edited, reflecting a shift in their thinking, if necessary. The raw emotion can be addressed in revision. It can be harnessed as well, and expressed as they have calmed.

Inspiration – Anyone who has seen Penny Kittle speak has likely heard her share the brilliant practice of writing beside something. Have students write beside the news, either an article in print, or any medium. Much like Penny would have them do, have them pull lines, phrases, or words that resonate, and have them use those lines as the genesis of their own pieces.

Have them ask questions around a news story. Flood a page with questions, and then use those questions as inspiration. Try to answer them. Respond to why the questions are troubling. Let them scream the questions and answers on their pages.

Note emotions as the story unfolds. Have them track their own responses, and what triggered the response. Have them note the emotions of the people involved in the story. Use those emotions as inspiration, and write.

Have them pick a point of view in the news story, and write from that perspective. This could be an extension of the question based writing, but it may mean the adoption of a voice that isn’t their own, perhaps one that expresses the “other side” of where they find themselves sitting in regards to the story in question.

Poetic Form – One of my favorite things about poetry as a vessel of response is that the form is a wonderful balance of freedom and constraint. If we’ve shown them a variety of forms, then they have that to draw upon as writers, and can decide if their piece is a sprawling block of text intended to be a shouted piece of spoken word poetry, or if it’s a haiku, evoking a single moment of the story. There is a wonderful freedom in being able to say to a writer, “Write the poem it feels like this event needs you to respond with.”

We can also set the form. If we’ve been studying a form, the Poets Respond model is a pretty good way for us to practice it, finding the topics for the pieces in the headlines.

Each week, I know there’s a good possibility that Rattle is going to hit me hard. Knowing that the poet has been able to use their craft to pen a response to something matters to me. It’s a “real life” model of what I want my writers to do – to consider the world as presented to them, and use their words to respond to it. As I sat, still stunned about Las Vegas and gun culture, reading Rebecca Starks’ “Open Carry” in response made it feel very important to share this resource with you this week. Use it to help your writers make some sense of a world that doesn’t sometimes.

How do you have your writers write about current events? Is there a poetic form you feel is best suited to these kinds of poems? How else might we “write beside” the news?

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy!

-Jay

PS – The poems shared via Poets Respond are excellent poems to use in PIPs.

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