Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Finding poems

Last week, we dove into our study of poems, forms, and poetic expression. We'll be looking at a new poem or form (or both) each week. Our plan, when we examine poems, is to make the implicit explicit through careful study (explication). We started with Naomi Shihab Nye's "Valentine for Ernest Mann" and discussed the concept of re-inventing (or re-framing) the ordinary to make it extraordinary.

This conversation followed on the heels of the previous day's examination of the idea of "the danger of a single story," a TED talk by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie about the idea that if we hear only a "single story" about a person or group of people, we risk a "critical misunderstanding" of that person or group.  "Valentine for Ernest Mann" pushed us to think about the danger of accepting any sort of single narrative and the way that there are always stories, poems, and beauty to be found in our everyday lives.

After listening to me read the poem to them and then reading the poem silently themselves (twice - once all the way through and then again, to underline compelling words and phrases), several students read the poem aloud. We talked about which parts we liked, why those parts resonated with us, and how we might all live in a way that allows us to continue to find poems lurking about in unexpected places. E.H., one of our seventh graders, pointed out that there's a contradiction in the poem: if ordinary things already contain extraordinary beauty (if we just look at them differently), then why would we need to re-invent them to make them beautiful? We sat with this contradiction and tried to decipher the speaker's intent.

I then asked students to look around the classroom for an ordinary object and examine it closely, find its alternative narrative, and, if they felt so compelled, re-invent it (or just look at it differently) to see it in an extraordinary way.

Samples of their work --

N.C. on the corkboard:

E.W. on the second floor of our school:

O.S. on the wire rack that holds our clipboards:

E.H. on the light switch:

M.P. on maps:

Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us
we find poems.

With continued plans to find poems,