Mentor Text: My Honest Poem by Rudy Francisco
- Writing About Oneself
- Writing Poetry
Background: In a recent planning session, I mentioned that I lean on poetry pretty hard in Grade 10. My colleague Rachelle replied that I lean pretty hard on poetry in all my courses.
I can’t help it. There’s something about the expression within poetry, as students read it and write it that, if I may borrow from my wife’s recent Marie Kondo obsession, sparks joy for me. So, it was kind of a no-brainer that I’d choose a poem for Mentor Text Wednesday in April.
It wasn’t an easy choice – a lot of great poetry has found a place in my classroom this year. Some of it, I’ve shared here already. As I was filing some student work, I came across a handful of our memoir chapbooks from first semester in my Grade 12 course, and I was reminded of Rudy Francisco’s ‘My Honest Poem.’
Like many poets, Francisco’s work is heartbreakingly open and inspiring. A number of his pieces have been used in my classroom, for analysis, and as mentor texts. ‘My Honest Poem’ is a confessional piece that, as a mentor text, offers young writers a chance to reflect.
How We Might Use This Piece:
Writing About Oneself – I had my students write a lot of memoir poems. Often, we wrote poetic responses to different prompts. Other times, like with ‘My Honest Poem,’ we wrote alongside a mentor text. ‘My Honest Poem’ was put in front of them late in the process, when they were thinking poetically out of habit.
What I love about this poem is the confessional nature. Ending the first stanza with “I don’t know what that means.” establishes a tone, a sense of openness that invites the reader into a confidence, it seems. What follows is a series of admissions, sometimes with a bit of commentary on those admissions.
He also works from things that he’s been told. From being “born feet first” to being “told I give really bad hugs,” he reflects on what others have said about him, or to him. As a mentor text for writing about yourself, this is great. I had students brainstorm alongside the poem, noting their versions of these things alongside Francisco’s.
I like how there is doubt in his honesty, and the dichotomy of being a person is displayed. “I’m loud in places where I should be quiet, I’m quiet in places where I should be loud.” is such a wonderful line to explore this, as many of us have those almost involuntary things just like this.
Another thing I think is wonderful for students about this poem is that in its honesty, it’s reminiscent of that moment of unloading we often have when we decide to be honest. When we open up, we let it all out. Working with young people, we see that happen on a regular basis – a stream of seemingly non-sequitur truths are unleashed once we decide to be honest. Much like I did in my class, we, as teachers, get the list in the brainstorm or initial quickwrite, and then ask our writers to choose a single thing from the list to focus on. In ‘My Honest Poem,’ the list is the point – to share a whole bunch of honesty in one go.
Writing Poetry – In that one go, Francisco shares a lot. What I love about this poem is that it plays with the conventions of poetry. Regardless of what we’ve looked at, and the poetry we’ve written previously, the notion that each idea, or in this case, each bit of honesty, gets its own stanza remains steadfast. Francisco plays with that, showing that stanza breaks and line breaks can exist wherever we feel they work best, and that we aren’t necessarily beholden to an idea being completely covered in a stanza.
Again, noting form, ‘My Honest Poem’ is written as a series of tercets. There are students who are frustrated by the fact that this choice was made, especially considering that it means that the stanzas don’t always have room to finish an honesty. We discussed how it actually adds to the confessional feeling of the poem, almost as if it’s not broken up by the poet, but by the device, almost like when we’re tweeting a thread, and need to continue a thought in a new tweet.
Since we’ve talked about the importance of tone in poetry, we also discuss the confessional tone that this poem encourages. By titling it ‘My Honest Poem,’ it’s established that honesty is a defining characteristic in the piece – sharing things we’re proud of, and those we’re not, admitting things, bragging about things, sharing what’s been said about us, or to us and putting our thoughts on paper. We talk about how these things are rolled out, if we’ll flow through the emotions, or bounce between them, if there’s a dominant emotion in our honesty, or it’s a jumble. The connection between the poet’s feelings and the reader’s understanding of them is highlighted here.
As well, the play with figurative language in the poem, (pride shattering like an iPhone screen, wondering what the curtains would do) models that play for young writers. It’s good, but there’s a sense of it being obvious in this poem, and seeing an accomplished poet being a bit clunky with simile, metaphor and personification makes it seem more possible for them.
I really wanted to share a poem that you could take into your classroom this month. Yes, I used it close to the end of the semester with my students this year, but it could just have easily been used on the first day. It’s a poem that they can write beside easily, and with that title, have a sense of ease as they approach it. As a mentor text, it’s something we could pull apart, and discuss the moves made, and why, but it’s also something that we could use to create easily, treating it almost like MadLibs. It’s a great poem, and I hope it inspires great poems in your classroom.
What poem do you have in your pocket that’s become a favorite to give to students? What’s the best poem you’ve given your writers to write alongside?
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