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.
Watching a horror movie
The fifth-grade writing test.
The phone ringing
in the middle of the night.
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.
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