Borrowing from other Poets

When students are writing poetry we often encourage them to choose a poet as a mentor and to try on what the poet is doing.  Sometimes students notice how a poet uses rhythm, a patterned rhyme, repetitive lines, alliteration, or onomatopoeia.  Sometimes they notice that the poet seems to be talking to someone or something; or the poet is pretending to be an object, like a mountain, a desert, or an animal.  The student then tries to use the idea in his/her own writing.

One day we came across this poem by Livingston:


By Myra Cohn Livingston


is when I’m tucked in bed

and little things think in my head


is splashing out to meet

the ocean waves beneath my feet


is in the apple tree

with no one looking up at me.

We talked about how Livingston took various situations that made her feel alone and listed them in her poem. (The poem reminded me of Charlie Brown’s Happiness is…) We had previously been talking about feelings that were coming through in various poems.  We brainstormed a list of feelings: anger, jealousy, love, courage, happiness, sadness, disappointment, fright, and so on.

First we tried writing a poem together, trying to imitate the form that Livingston used.  I asked the students to work with a partner and write on a post-it something that made them feel frightened.  As we shared all the possible answers, I wrote in front of them on a chart.

Fright is…

Watching a horror movie

by yourself.

Fright is…

The fifth-grade writing test.

Fright is…

The phone ringing

in the middle of the night.

Fright is…

The sound of cars

crashing right in front of you. (and so on.)

A few students tried the idea on their own during writing that day.  Here is one from fifth-grader Chris:


Anger is lava melting

Anger is yelling

Anger is red hot

Anger is building up

Anger is like a fireball.

Ralph Fletcher says that it’s even OK to borrow a line or two from a poet.  His idea works well with reluctant writers who just can’t get started.  On page 120 of Poetry Matters, Fletcher writes a poem about a memory of sitting with his brother on his kitchen floor after bath time.  He suggests that students go ahead and borrow his first and last line and fill in the middle with a special memory of their own.

Sometimes I remember

the good old days


I still can’t imagine

anything better than that.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Poetry Anyone? « Catching Readers Before They Fall

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s