Mentor Text: The Poem Where I Lie About Everything by Rudy Francisco
- Making Your Audience Think
Let me start with a confession.
December kicked my butt. We came into on the heels of report cards, and a heightened set of protocols in reaction to a second wave with record setting COVID numbers in our province. We also knew that we’d be returning from break into a two week period of remote learning. (I’ve been lucky enough to be teaching masked face to far away masked face.) Planning for that remote learning so that I could make sure students left for break with materials in hand, and a need to balance work and life for our family’s well being meant something had to slide.
That was marking.
However, as I return to my classroom and my stacks of stuff to mark, I wound up coming across a great thing to share with you! If you need it, this MTW will give you a set of lessons that I really enjoyed, and that will work in whatever context you find yourself teaching in.
I was lucky enough to get my hands on a digital advance copy of Rudy Francisco’s new book, I’ll Fly Away. I’ve used his poems in my classroom with great success. I’ll Fly Away might even be better than Helium, and that’s a high bar!
I’ve shared here before my thoughts about using ‘My Honest Poem,’ from Helium, as a mentor text. Imagine my reaction when I came across a poem that is clearly a sibling to that one, ‘The Poem Where I Lie About Everything’!
With my Grade 12 students doing memoir writing this semester, I had a great set of poems for them to write beside. Also, where the nature of these two poems were at odds, it gave a great opportunity for some writerly reflection.
(We took a few classes with this. I assigned ‘My Honest Poem’ first, which we discussed, analyzing it and looking at the poet’s moves that we could borrow. We drafted, and returned to it next class, editing and polishing. I gave no indication that there would be another poem coming, so ‘The Poem Where I Lie About Everything’ kind of took them by surprise. We repeated the process, discussing and drafting a second poem. I then asked them to reflect upon the pair of poems they wrote.)
How we might use this text:
Lying – So, one of the things about ‘My Honest Poem,’ as is true of many memoir activities that we give our writers is that it asks them to explore their truths. The hope is that we have an environment in the classroom which encourages them to open up.
Throwing out that word “lie” in the title of the poem presents an interesting invitation. We get to play with the facts, which, when this is assigned in the midst of exploring and expressing our truths, is a welcome departure.
When we discuss the poem, looking at what Francisco does, we discuss that the lies being told are probably being told in such a way to reveal a truth, even if we’re hiding it behind a surface lie. Because we’ve established that the poem is made up of lies, we talk about trusting the voice in the poem. If we’ve accepted that he was honest in the first poem, then we need to believe he’s lying in the second, right? But in doing this, we must look at why, and how, he lies, the purpose. As we can see, the lies actually serve to highlight truths.
I’m a couple of hours removed from reading 20 or so pairs of these poems. It’s a neat time to write this post, as I’ve just seen how my writers handled the task of lying. There were some who chose to have fun with this, and lie big. In their reflections, they noted that this was a fun, easy task, as they could pretty much write whatever they wanted, as the task was to write a poem where they lie.
Some writers noted what Francisco did, and used their lies to highlight truths. They lied about the things they’re confident about, presented the antithesis to their insecurities and downplayed their strengths. I loved the tone in some of these poems, a splash of sarcasm as they looked inward critically.
Until I started putting this together to share, I had never really considered the importance of having students explore lying for a purpose. We look at propaganda, question media and consider the occasional unreliable narrator, but I think there’s something worth exploring in having our writers write like a bunch of phonies.
Making Your Audience Think – Francisco’s poem is a good mentor text for a piece that encourages the reader to think about a few things. As discussed above, we need to consider the lies being told, and the reasons they’re being told, the things that they highlight.
When we discussed it as a class, we talked about a number of the other decisions Francisco made. The line about the typo was one we zeroed in on. Some of us saw “Exists./That was a typo.” as a couplet that was almost a non sequitur, something thrown in for flavour, as if “exists” was written down and passed off as a typo. We discussed the laziness we sometimes have us writers, the things we leave instead of expending the energy to fix. Others pointed out that it referred to an earlier line, “Yes, the way that my parents look at each other/reminds me that love still exits.” So, “exits” was the typo? But if he’s lying, was it a typo? This idea of making an intentional typo, and then pointing it out was something we discussed, though none of my writers played with that in their poems, I can see myself suggesting that move next time.
We also focused on the “interrogation” towards the end of the poem. There are a few responses he gives that give us some indication as to what the question might be. We wondered, however, what those final four questions, 3 nos and a yes, might have been. A couple students found this frustrating, as they felt as if there was an intent here, as if Francisco wanted us to figure it out, but hadn’t given us enough information to do that. Again, this was another feature of the poem that we discussed, but no one tried to use in their own poems.
Reflection – Often, our reflection is a part of our writing process. As we write and edit, we discuss the choices we’re making, the things we’re trying to achieve. And that reflection happened during the classes we were writing these poems in.
That being said, with the contrasting nature of these two poems, I felt it was worth exploring in a more formal reflection. I was curious about the process, and which of these came easier to them, or presented challenges. I didn’t give many parameters, other than I wanted to see some acknowledgement of the contrasting nature of the poems, perhaps even a preference, as well as glimpse into their process. Which of the poems was easier to write? I have the benefit of a group of adventurous writers, most of whom are nearing the end of our fourth course together. They were open about their process, and candid about what they wrote. Their reflections will impact my next iteration of this lesson.
Poetry is a powerful form for students to express themselves, especially when they have strong mentor texts. I don’t know if Rudy Francisco had this lesson plan I’ve put together in mind when he wrote these poems, but I thank him for them. I’ve enjoyed having students writing “honest poems” for close to two years, but this year, knowing they were going to write “lying poems” right after… what a treat!
What lesson plan(s) have come, almost gift-wrapped, from an author? Like lying, what’s a thing you’ve recently discovered your writers should play with?
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