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 best part.