Mentor Text: My Three Solaces by Erin Fornoff
Background: As this post publishes, many of you are headed back into your classrooms after a break for the holidays. (Monday for me!)
It’s a new calendar year. This, combined with the holiday season, makes me reflective. The chaos of school before the break, the chaos of the holiday season, the cold weather – all of these things put me in a reflective spot.
As I look at a Twitter feed full of people sharing their resolutions, their #oneword and their hopes for 2018, I also see a flood of reflection, much like my own. We’re looking at where we’re going, and we’re reflecting on where we’ve been.
When this poem found its way into my Twitter feed, I earmarked it for future use. Initially, I saw it as a mentor piece for some memoir writing, but as I scoured my earmarked pieces for the first Mentor Text Wednesday of 2018, I saw a new purpose for this piece.
In those first classes of the new year, how many of us are going to have students write about their resolutions? Their One Word?
Let me propose an alternative. What if they popped open their notebooks and wrote about the things that bring them solace? It could be as an act of reflection – 2017 was tough for many people. Looking at what brings us comfort is a good way to reflect on a tough year. 2018 will be a year that brings challenges as well. For our graduating students, there is much that will change, and a reminder of what brings them solace might be a good start for the year to come.How We Might Use This Text:
Poetry- If you’re a regular reader of my MTW posts, you know that I love using poetry as a mentor text. I actually have to make an effort to remember to include other forms sometimes! The thing is, poetry is a form that many of our writers balk at. They feel concerned about the “rules and expectations” of the form. As we know, when we get them engaged with poetry, it is the freedom inherent in the form that they find rewarding.
With a poetic mentor text, I like us to talk about our “noticings.” I’ve usually got a list, but it’s important that we discuss it as a class, and if they don’t spot them, I can share. I especially like when they see stuff I don’t.
This poem. Three simple, short stanzas, each starting with “the solace” gives them a form that they can emulate easily. I like this kind of poem as a mentor text, as it gives them a structure to work with, and allows them the freedom of filling in the structure. We also get to have a discussion about stamze length, which is valuable. A class deciding if they need to change the length to have more freedom to express themselves is a pretty good thing. Equally as good, a class rising to the challenge of expressing themselves in short stanzas like Fornoff’s.
I see this as a challenge in expression. Can they find three things that bring them solace, and express those things? Can they express them poetically, like Fornoff does? This will be the conversation I want us to have as writers. How does Fornoff express these things? They are in many ways more implied than directly stated. What a wonderful writing exercise for our writers. (Also, there could be a wonderful revision lesson here, simply starting with a list of the specific things that bring solace, and moving towards a more “poetic” expression of these things.)
Brevity – One of the reasons I like to give poems like this to students is that it pushes them to express their ideas succinctly. As I’ve said before, I like to focus on writing with brevity frequently, because with many writers, especially our struggling writers, are often being pushed to write more, and expand. I like to encourage a balance, as both are important.
Three stanzas. Two lines, four lines, four lines. That’s not a lot of space to fill. Working “poetically” and with brevity, this becomes an exercise in effective, and powerful, expression. I love the practice of putting a brevity based challenge like this in front of writers and having them labour over their words. When you have fewer to use, the choice of each word is more important.
Memoir – One of my courses features memoir quite heavily, so I’m always collecting material that I feel serves to prompt memoir writing. This is one of those things, and that was my original intention for this poem. There’s a lot to play with. What brings you solace now? What brought you solace when you were younger? What brings you solace at home? At school? In the world? There are so many permutations to explore!
I also love the idea of writing these solace poems, focusing on the brevity and expression, and then revisiting them. How great could a longer narrative piece from these poems be, using the stanzas they’ve written between the sections as they expand on them?
This poem popped into my Twitter feed over the holidays, after a few weeks of our family having the flu, in the midst of a cold snap north of a city they call “Winterpeg.” In the midst of all that, it was a nice reminder of the things I have in my life that bring me solace. Aside from being a great mentor text for their writing, I think this might be a great exercise for students to reflect upon the things that bring them solace, perhaps a positive celebration at a time that can be challenging for many.
What are your first writing activities of 2018? What’s your current favorite mentor text poem? I know you’re thinking about it, so what are your solaces?
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