Mentor Text: The Truth From The Cave by Justin Rawdon Lipscomb
- Writing Memoir
- Crafting a Line
Background – One of the things I love about using mentor texts, and building mentor text sets is how a piece can add life to a lesson.
At the end of the summer, making sure I had enough reading material for my travel, I made sure there were books loaded in the libraries on my devices. One of those books was Justin Rawdon Lipscomb’s collection of poetry, Chemically Coated Personalities. I enjoyed his poetry, with their titles reminiscent of emo songs from a few years ago. As I do with any volumes of poetry, I was flagging poems I knew might be useful for the classroom. Often, I don’t know the purpose these poems will serve, but a line, some use of technique, the theme or the poet’s voice compels me to note them, just in case.
Then, I came to the poem ‘The Truth From The Cave.’ I knew two things instantly – I had a purpose for this poem in my classroom, and I would be sharing it here.
Like many of us, I have the lesson around George Ella Lyons’ ‘Where I’m From’ laminated, ready to go. It’s a fantastic lesson, and when we are writing memoir pieces during that unit in Grade 12, we’ve been doing it.
And we’ve been doing it for over a decade.
‘The Truth From The Cave’ I offer to you to evolve this lesson, building a mentor text set. As early as the second line, “I am from video games, a flash kick, fireball, murder, death, and kill.” it’s clear that this poem offers a different take on where the writer may be from, more current. One of the things that I always felt challenged my writers in this lesson was that the Lyons poem feels dated, and based in nature and relatively concrete things of a certain era. From the games to the mention of music, this feels much more current, and therefore, more relevant to their lives.
How We Might Use This Text:
Writing Memoir – In all likelihood, most people reading this have done this lesson, using Lyons’ poem. These mentor texts ask students to reflect on where they’re “from” – identifying things that influence who they are.
‘The Truth From The Cave’ is different. I write this with both poems open in front of me. Lipscomb’s poem, at first glance, is formatted as a list poem. This, especially considering reluctant writers, is nice, as it looks like an easy format to write. Each line is easy to write, and it becomes a matter of brainstorming and arranging.
However, as we look at the poem more closely, we see that as it progresses, there is a bit of a shift, a transition from “I am from…” statements to I statements that reflect upon strengths, challenges and goals. I like this extension of the intent of the poem, as it looks not just at who the writer is, but who they might become, as well as how that may come to pass. Since I teach thematically, our memoir study is an aspect of our thematic study of “Identity, Independence and Individuality.” This will make this a really powerful piece of writing for my students.
Crafting a Line – This poem, in some ways, feels less an organized poem than a collection of really good single lines. I’m oversimplifying, and it works, as mentioned, as a reflection on the past, as well as a look ahead. That being said, this piece could be used as a wonderful mentor text on writing a kickass line.
I can see this poem being cut up into individual lines, and placed around the room as a gallery walk. Students would look for the line that resonated with them most, the one they felt was the best written, the most impactful. It would be beautiful to have them talk to each other about what Lipscomb does in the line that makes it great, and reflect on what they could borrow for their own writing. This could even be a process done over a couple classes, one day looking at the “I am from…” lines, the next, the other “I am…” statements.
There are such amazing lines in this poem, that having students write a pair, an “I am from…” and an “I am…” could yield great results. It could be a great lesson to have as touchstone as well, recalling when they focused on the impact that a single line can have.
When you start thinking about mentor texts, you realize just hoe many of your go-to lessons rely on mentor texts. This is such a wonderful thing, and a great reminder of what mentor texts can provide. Another wonder of using mentor texts is that you can build sets of mentor texts, different approaches to the same task. When a poem like ‘The Truth From The Cave’ comes along, you very well may wind up breathing new life into an old lesson, which is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?
Do you have other pieces in your “Where I’m From” mentor text set? Do you have any classic lesson plans that could use a fresh piece to liven them up?
Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy!