Mentor Text: Love by Alex Dimitrov
- Editing and revising
- Using a seed line
I openly declare my great love of Best of the Year poetry collections. For a number of years, I’ve made a point of making sure I make my way through The Best American Poetry, and this year, I’ve added The Best Canadian Poetry. These collections have proven to be a treasure trove of poems for classroom use.
As our second semester started in a jittering blast of school closures for weather, I found myself a little rootless as I planned. I picked up The Best American Poetry 2021 and started flipping through the flags I’d placed in it, hoping inspiration might strike. I wanted something to inspire my emerging poets in two of my courses. Luckily, not only had I flagged Alex Dimitrov’s poem ‘Love’ in that collection, but I had actually written out a lesson plan for it.
This discovery worked out quite well for me, as we started our work with this poem on Valentine’s Day, which won’t happen for you… this year.
How we might use this text:
Editing and revising– As I teach poetry in high school, I find myself doing some “unteaching.” My Grade 9 students, especially, seem to have learned some very rigid rules about poetry. I want them to see poetry as a form of expression, so we do some activities to reinforce that.
I’ve shared one of my first lessons we do in Grade 9 poetry work here before, using the poem ‘Parents,’ which is a found poem that is made from an existing news article that has been edited into a poetic form. We do a similar thing with ‘Love.’
After we’ve read, and discussed ‘Love,’ I ask each student to write 3-5 statements similar to those Dimitrov shares. They submit them to me digitally, and I collect them into a single document that I share back to them. Their task is to craft a one page poem like ‘Love.’ We’ve discussed that Dimitrov’s poem is a list poem, and look at some of the patterns he used, and choices he made. We discuss intentionally making choices from the “raw material” we’ve been given to craft a poem that seems less random, or more intentional, than the one I’ve created as I collected their statements.
I also ask them to submit a brief poet’s statement with this poem, discussing their choices, and what they were trying to achieve. In this activity, we’ve centred the conversation on the act of editing and revision with a purpose.
Using a seed line – One of the things I love to have writers do is to work from a seed line. Sometimes, we all work from the same line, other times, we’ve pulled from the same text. The joy of this poem as a source for seed lines is its length and consistency. It is a long poem, and every line begins, “I love…” Since Dimitrov’s poem has such a simple format, it’s possible a student could grow a list poem just like ‘Love’ from one of its own lines.
My practice when discussing a poem for analysis purposes with a class is to always ask them what “pops” for them. Often, the things that students share are lines that have an impact, or resonate. If we’ve looked at the poem analytically beforehand, we may have already found our seed lines. I specifically asked them to flag a few “loves” that resonated with them as they read.
I used an offhand comment from a student to discuss how we might grow our own pieces from a seed line. When we were discussing how Dimitrov found a way to express love for each month, a student said that he loves July because that’s when his birthday is. Although it would be easy to start a poem with “I love July” and move from there, he could also, if he chose, simply write about his birthday. It’s tricky to model all the ways that a seed line can inspire, but it’s a worthy pursuit.
What things, books, or practices do you have on hand to inspire you while you plan? How do you break the “planning block”? How do you use seed line with your writers?
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