Exercises for Young Writers
Today We're Going to Write a Poem
by Sheryl Robbins
If you've ever stood before a class of students over the age of ten
and made the above announcement, you know that the first reaction (after the
groans) will be "Why should we?" - followed by some variation of the
question "Can you make any money doing this?"
Part of the task in exciting students to write is to break up the
vicious cultural cycle in which nothing matters but getting matter, which in
turn deadens matter, so that nothing matters. To revivify their experiences
of the world requires exercising their six senses. Children, along with
lunatics, lovers, and poets, know that bushes can be bears, that walls
breathe, that monsters live in the basement. They know these things
sensuously. Language pulls that knowledge back from the beyond of the sixth
sense into the here and now.
The word "poet" just means "maker." To imagine, then, uses words to
coax that essentially made-up experience of the observed into warm-blooded
life. The soul of matter speaks from memory, dream, beauty, horror, event,
and image via the senses. Students can remember how to hear that language
and can learn to transcribe it.
So how do you, as a teacher, accomplish all this in 45 minutes? You
talk, briefly, about the impending adventure (Psyche married Eros - be
passionate). You read or invent examples of sensuous poetry; those written
by other students are often most effective. You spell out any arbitrary
rules you may use to keep them out of dead matter ruts: no rhymes, no words
like "nice" or "cute". You suggest a theme or opening line in case they are
stuck for a way to begin:
You give them time to write. You, or they, read what they've written aloud.
You exclaim in wonder. Can you make any money doing this? No. That's the
- Sometimes when I look up into the
- My grandmother used to say (cook,
- Down at the corner every Friday
- What the voices say to me in the
- He/She is the Prince/ss of Cups, the
Ice Queen, the Thing that Ate Lackawanna...
- The day it happened we were...
- In the dream that keeps coming back
- At the place I go to be alone there
- Once upon a time, a long, long time
ago, in a kingdom far away...