Mentor Text Wednesday: How to Play Night Baseball

Mentor Texts: ‘How To Play Night Baseball’ by Jonathan Holden


  • Imagery
  • Writing Poetry
  • Adding Flavour

Background – So, often, I use this column as a chance to plan a lesson. Sometimes, I’m planning a lesson using a mentor text I know I’ll be using somewhere down the road, and other times, I’ve found a mentor text that I think is amazing, and though I may not use it myself, I want to use this platform to suggest great mentor texts to the community. Whatever the purpose, Mentor Text Wednesday posts are often about a text I haven’t used yet.

That was my plan for this week until last week. I had another great piece on my desk, ready to be marked up. Before that, I had to teach my afternoon classes. As I’ve shared before, at my school, we teach our English classes thematically. Grade 10s are looking at Facing Adversity and Being a Hero. Within out big themes, I have a few pursuits that I love, one of which is the Adversity of Athletics.

That’s where this mentor text came in. It’s one I’ve had for years, that a former colleague shared with me for use in our multigenre project work years ago. (Thanks Katie!) Jonathan Holden’s ‘How To Play Night Baseball’ is a wonderful little poem.

How to Play Night BaseballIt was our mentor text for “How To…” poems back in the MGP days, and that’s the same purpose that it serves in the Adversity of Athletics pursuit. Exploring their own athletic experiences through this wonderful and compact poem gave me a stack of beautiful student poems to read, and that’s why I’m sharing it with you today.

How we might use this text:

Imagery– A poem like this is wonderful for mentor text work. It’s brief, and so wonderfully focused on a device – imagery. As we looked at it, we discussed what was the distinguishing characteristics. They pointed out, quite quickly, that there were so many tiny, powerful examples of imagery strung together to make an impact. The impact, actually, is intensified because the imagery isn’t about the game itself, but the things around it, the things that make the experience.

We dug into a couple of these examples of imagery, and the impression they created. “…the ball will be kissed with green kisses…” resonated, as it is a clear example that there’s been play, the image of that ball capturing the time that has been “lost” to that play. This inspired them to write about the evidence of time lost to the sport they chose in their examples.

We talked about the imagery in the couplet, “Play until the ball is khaki-/a movable piece of the twilight-” a fair bit too. Initially, they found it foolish, playing until the ball is hard to see, but as we unpacked the idea the image communicates, we had lots of reminiscing about the times we’ve played our favorite games until the bitter end, until the conditions changed that.

This poem is a perfect example of what imagery can do in poetry. Using an image to communicate not just a moment, but to capture the emotion, nostalgia and all the, you know, other stuff that a moment encompasses. And I got to see that reflected in their poems!

Writing Poetry – It’s no secret that I love the idea of using poetry to express all kinds of ideas. I think that’s why, when we did the multigenre project more directly, we wrote a lot of poetry. I’ve been using poetry as a response to literature the last few years as well. I love the idea of expressing big ideas in a form that can be more compact.

I think this is why this poem is resonating with me this year. Often, “how to” writing is kind of clunky, and overly rigid and formulaic. It reads like an effort to turn a numbered set of steps into an informative text.

What this poem mentors is the idea that there is more to doing something than following the steps. Poetry is, for lack of a better term, more romantic than informative. As I said above, this poem is less about the actual how to play than it is about capturing the moment, or experience of playing. This poem, if it serves us no other purpose, demonstrates that poetry is about communicating those more romantic notions.

Adding Flavour– If you haven’t seen them, Brett’s pieces here on using poetry as a pre-writing strategy are awesome. (Part One and Part Two, as I suggest you read these immediately) He’s absolutely right – poetry is a fantastic pre-writing strategy.

With some of my writers, we’ve been exploring ways to introduce pieces. They’re so often incredibly clunky and formulaic. We show them mentor texts, and hope that they absorb some tricks that help.

If my Adversity of Athletics pursuit included an essay, we’d be using this poem again. If a student was writing about hockey, then we’d pull this poem out, and we’d play with the imagery related to that game. We’d write that poem. And then, we’d have a first draft of a pretty compelling introductory paragraph, something with some flavour to hook our readers. (And if we’re being honest here, is there anything wrong with a student using a brief poem as an introduction in your class?)

Thinking back to my initial exposure to this poem, it doesn’t just have to be about sport. Whatever the situation is, our writers could use this poem as a mentor text to think about the emotions attached to that situation, and use this poem as a way to express it. I literally just paused in this writing to help my youngest daughter learn to make paper airplanes, and though I stopped short of saying it aloud, I thought, “The paper from church bulletins is best…” and reflected on making, and flying, paper airplanes as stealthily as possible in the church basement during Sunday School. (And perhaps smuggling a couple of extra bulletins home for use at school on Monday…)

Though my intention this time around was to share something I’ve actually used, the truth is that a good mentor text in the hands of a teacher is so very loaded with potential. I think that’s part of the reason that I love having this column, because I get to explore mentor texts, share my thoughts on their potential, knowing full well that once they’re in your hands, there’s no telling what they’ll do.

What go-to poems do you have for imagery? Or for any other devices? How have you used poetry, as Brett suggests, as a pre-writing strategy?

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


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