Mentor Text: untitled Olympic hockey poem by Richard Wagamese (arranged by Allan Hawco)
- Poetic Form
Is anyone else struggling to find the groove this year?
I’m thankful that I have years of experience to draw on, and archives of lessons to tweak, to build new ideas upon.
I’m using that this week friends. My initial planning for this post was done on the sidelines of a soccer game, as we finished up zone play tonight. The zone final’s tomorrow.
But the poem I planned this piece around is in an anthology on my desk at work, so that’ll come to you another time. I dug into the archives instead, looking for a text I had a copy of that was easily shared with you, and that I thought you’d find useful.
As I looked for the original piece I was going to use, I came across my copy of Richard Wagamese’s One Native Life, a wonderful collection of the late Indigenous author’s beautiful essays. Knowing I had a few of those digitized already, I opened up my drive and searched his name. I found a couple of those essays, but I also found the text I’m ultimately sharing with you this week.
One of Wagamese’s (many) masterworks is the novel Indian Horse, the tale of a residential school survivor with a gift for hockey. During the 2018 Olympics, actor Alan Hawco arranged passages of the novel for a beautiful promotional video that aired in the lead up to a key matchup featuring a Canadian Olympic team. We did some work with this text at the time, as we were focusing on athletics, and the adversity of it, in our course. It’s a wonderful text.
Tonight, rediscovering it in my search for a text for you, I was reminded of how wonderful it is.
How we might use this text:
Editing- As I’ve shared already this year, one of my early poetry craft lessons is introducing the idea that at a base level, arranging poetry can be seen as an act of editing. Hawco’s editing of passages from Indian Horse, are a logical next step after the lesson I do using ‘Parents,’ or after we craft one-line poems. Pulling poetic passages and arranging them into a poem is a powerful lesson in the power of editing.
If you’re at a place in your course where you’re working with poetry, and dealing with a novel study, the two could be connected in a single exercise, where the goal of the poem made from passages from the text is to highlight a key theme in the novel, or an important message or motif. Though Hawco’s intent was to amplify the love of the game to promote hockey viewership, it also serves to highlight the importance of hockey in the novel as well.
I know that this practice of considering poetry an act of editing works with struggling young poets, because I’ve used it with them. Last year, a writer in my Lit class went from “I can’t write poetry!” fights to someone confident when assigned a poem because he knew his first draft could be a paragraph. He couldn’t write poems, but he could write paragraphs, and edit them to look like poems. Had I not taught him that middle step, I’d often not know the difference.
Poetic Form – I love this idea as a way to discuss poetic form with students. I often find that my Grade 9 students come to me with very definite ideas about form, ones clearly influenced by someone unfamiliar with poetry using those handouts we’ve all seen, and likely used, that prescribe specific forms so that our poets can create those forms successfully. Though they have their place, they do put students at odds with poetry that doesn’t adhere to those forms.
As I’ve shared before, when we have students edit passages of pre-existing text into poems, we can have discussions about form. We can discuss things like line breaks and stanzas, and really consider the intent of the poet who has done the editing. What do we set alone on a line, and why? Do we repeat things, and what would this achieve? It’s an avenue for important craft talk, which could benefit them as they analyze poetry as well.
It was not my intention to string together a little unit of lessons through mentor texts this year. The original choice for this post would certainly not have done that, but as I stated above, finding the groove has been hard this year. But the cool thing about trying to find that groove is that sometimes, you kind of wander into a new, and possibly better groove. As hard as it’s been, it has been pushing me to think, reflect, and grow this year. And I hope sharing it here helps you with your groove.
Do you have any other mentor texts like this, that encourage writers to work from existing texts? Are there ways that you’ve used mentor texts to help a student feel more comfortable with a form, such as poetry?
Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy!
Thank you. I always look forward to your posts because they are so PRACTICAL. You provide the mentor text and you provide the ways in. I really appreciate that.
More Richard Wagamese! More from One Native Life! I’m using this text for mentors too and would love to see how you are approaching them. We have an Indigenous-focused grade 11 English course in the (Canadian) board where I teach, and we’re always looking for new, fresh ideas like yours.
One Story, One Song is a great book by Wagamese as well.