Tag Archives: writing with students

#427: A Poem from Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” on April 21, 2022

my school, again

I hear the American High School
singing, the varied carols I hear:
students sing their way
down the hallways and
into classrooms, where,
sometimes, they stop
singing, quiet, heads
down, depressed or
exhausted–other times
the singing never ceases
and their verses and choruses
percolate and resonate through
each 87 minute period.
I hear the teachers
sing their teaching voices,
singing their lessons
unceasingly, tirelessly,
mustering the energy
reserves to sing all the way
through to the end,
day after day, 180 of them,
year after year.
I hear the campus security
team, singing their
support and care for the
safety of everyone inside.
The cooks and the janitors,
doing what they can, their songs
keeping the people fed
and the building clean,
a deathless song without end.
I hear the singing of the entire
support staff, instructional assistants,
registrars, office secretaries,
couriers, all singing to keep
everything hanging together.
And I hear the principal singing,
juggling a dozen different songs,
sometimes singing the verse
from one after the chorus of
another, looking for the absolute
best tune from which to lead,
never completely satisfied,
always striving. All of them singing
in the American High School
through open mouths
their strong, melodious songs.

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#407: Another Erasure Poem on April 4, 2022

Oh my god, here he comes!
He was a myth:
descending the dark stairs,
flourishing gestures of a hat,
the First National Bank–
his open window. 

Even in our ashes
she clasped the rich seclusion.
She’s the one with the money.
She’s the one wants to be an opera singer.
She’s the one wants to be an actress!

She halted, indecisively,
the cool gulch of afternoon,
the heavy, paralyzed body,
stone deaf. 
He was a myth:
The violent shuffle
of a palsied tattoo.

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#223: A Course in Silence

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My sophomores and I are studying the poetry of William Stafford and, as is inevitable in a study of poetry, at least from my perspective,  we are also writing poems. An exercise slightly more open-ended than the corruption assignment, is to simply take inspiration from our man Stafford, either by attempting, as he did for 50 some years, to write a little bit every day, or by borrowing subject matter or certain moves and approaches. For example, after reading “A Ritual to Read to Each Other,” we might write our own ritual poem: “A Ritual to ________.” Or, from “Why I Am Happy,” we start with that title or fill in something more individually appropriate: Why I Am Sad, Angry, Hungry, Frustrated, Confused, or in Love. And, finding myself in a grading lull, I take full advantage of the opportunities I’m giving to my students to do some writing of my own. Here’s a thing inspired by Stafford’s “A Course in Creative Writing.” As I put up the prompt, “A Course in ________,” I couldn’t help but think about the kind of course I think children and young people, and adults, too, for that matter, need most.

A Course in Silence

How about a class
in which students
learn to be quiet,
in which they learn
how to sit and do
nothing, how to
breathe, how to be
without noise,
without screens,
without entertainment,
without distraction
of any kind?
The final exam:
sit here.
You can close
your eyes but
you don’t have to.
Be aware of the
spinning wheels
of your own mind
and try to slow
them down,
or not. It’s enough
to be aware of them
spinning.
Breathe in.
Breathe out.
Extra credit option:
do that again,
only better.

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#181: I Am From Jarmers

oak tree wisdom

On the very first days with my sophomores in the new school year, I asked them to write some goals for themselves, things they wanted to learn or accomplish in the new year in English Language Arts. I gave them the spiel that often goals are stupid things because we allow them to slip away or think of all kinds of excuses to put them off, especially if those goals are only in our heads.  It’s one thing to “think” a goal, it’s another thing, a better thing, to write it down, and it’s still a better thing to say it out loud to someone who might be able to hold you accountable or give you encouragement and help. And I also try to avoid asking students to do things that I would not be willing to do myself.  So, I wrote my own goal for the year–and because it’s personal, therefore meaningful, it won’t work for one of the goals I set for my administrators (go figure)–but in the effort to make it stick, I shared it with my sophomores. My goal this year is to write more often with my students.

We began with a poem by George Ella Lyon, “Where I’m From,” which has been used I think a gazillion times by teachers as a model for student writing about their origins, literal and figurative origins. We read the poem, observed its various moves and strategies, and then wrote our own.  Mine turned out nicely, I think.  But check out the original, too, by Lyon.  It’s better.

I Am From Jarmers

I am from the Oak,
the giant Oak in my yard
that’s stood there for decades,
maybe centuries.

I am from stuffed animals
piled up on the bed.
I am from Star Trek and
I Dream of Jeanie.

I am from an above ground
swimming pool,
long summer days in
the heat, in and out
of the water 10 or 15
times every day.  

I am from babysitters
covered in tanning oil.
I am from Risley Park
where a gigantic teepee
used to stand, gone now
for twenty years.

I am from camping in the woods
and at the beach  
and from a Father who loved
the outdoors
and a Mother who loved
almost everything and every one.

I am from alcohol.

I am from Jarmers.  

I am from Catholicism,
the quiet, the ritual,
the family car ride
every Sunday to Mass.
I am from the fear
of Satan and wonder
at my brother the born-again.

I am from music of the last half
of the twentieth century;
I am from punk and new wave.

I am from the drums,
from blistered hands and
sizzling cymbals and
punctured bass drum heads.
I am from ringing ears.

I am from the middle class.
I am from dumb luck
and Rex Putnam High School
and Clackamas Community College
and Lewis and Clark College
and Warren Wilson College,
all these places making me human,
giving me a life to live.  

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