Last week, I learned what it means to “move the writer.”
My AP Literature students are in the middle of a heavy duty poetry study, and I’ve tried to honor their requests for what activities might best help them tackle Poetry-with-a-capital-P. So far, students have studied plenty of classics and rites of passage poems, they’ve tackled the sometimes scary “exam poems”, accounted for their no-fail poetry analysis strategies, shared their thoughts, ideas, and interpretations with their classmates, read and enjoyed a few “non-depressing poems”, and even “played” with the poetry for a day or two, too.
But one request I see over and over in my AP Lit class has nothing to do with close reading or analysis. Many students seem to have a deeply rooted desire to express themselves, to explore language in new ways, to write creatively. I figure there is almost no better way for students to consider the intentional choices writers make in crafting poetry than to become poets themselves.
The mentor text we studied: Whipstitches by Randi Ward
I began this activity with an “in house” field trip. I asked students to grab a journal and take a stroll around the school, noticing ordinary objects that could be a source of great inspiration. We spent 10-15 minutes wandering, journaling, and contemplating.
When we returned to class, I passed out a selection of 12 “whipstitches” as the class has so fondly come to call these wonderful little poems.
And here are more selections from Ward’s web site you don’t want to miss: http://randiward.com/work
After reading as readers, all 12 aloud — in 12 different student voices, one for each poem, which was downright chill-inducing, we then read the poems as writers. What I found surprised me. For as many times as we’ve gone to the “read as readers then as writers” well, and given the various activities and protocols I’ve built to guide students in and out of text analysis and writers’ moves, I discovered with my students that poetry is the sweet spot in the middle — the genre that seamlessly blends reading as readers and reading as writers.
As students applied their poetry analysis strategies and began internalizing and making sense of the work, they shared out their “notices” on the board. I began the list with “Writers of “whipstitches”…
Here’s what they said and what also became our co-constructed guidelines for their own “whipstitches” poetry assignment:
Writers of “whipstitches”…
- Use simple words that contain deep meaning
- Create poems that are short, concise, and concentrated
- Know the themes and ideas they want to explore
- Are sometimes ambiguous
- Use figurative language
- Create feeling and trigger emotions or memories
- Use only 1 sentence or question for their poems
- Break or stop lines intentionally for “flow”, emphasis, tone, or rhythm
- Present work in an intentional and cohesive way (if you get a closer look at Ward’s book, each page is uniquely crafted with a backdrop of what looks like pressings of straw)
Building this list lead to insightful conversations about meaning and craft. I asked students to write six of their own “whipstitches,” borrowing from the writer’s moves, and to present their work in a creative and cohesive way. They had creative control, but all parts needed to work together. Once we’d identified this criteria, students got to work.
And there was an energy in the room that only real thinking can create. It had little to do with my teaching. I simply created an experience for my students. It had everything to do with poetry and art — how it unifies us and inspires us and moves us in ineffable ways. Ways that moved my young writers to make poetry.
Here is some of the work they created, and I am grateful to Mya J., Anayla D., Sydney S., Danielle K., Jessica H., Malerie W., Katie U., Amy F., Hannah B., and Eric J., Hailey M., and David C. for allowing me to share it here.
*To learn more about Whipstitches and poet Randi Ward, make sure to visit her web site or send her an email. After contacting her to ask permission to use her work in this post, she said she’d love to hear from other teachers!
What texts move your students to write? What writing assignments or activities inspire your students? I’d love to hear from you!