It seems to me, that this is a week (and year and era) when we especially need to support kids getting to be kids, letting their minds be in the magical, wondrous child-mind mode, while we adults deal with the adult problems.
One of the beautiful parts of being a child is the lived sense that all kinds of beings around you can talk and can be your friend. I think this sense can be especially strong in kids who get to free play in natural outdoor spaces where they can befriend bugs and trees, but it’s the same way of being that allows teddy bears to offer genuine companionship and solace.
So it is very natural and happy for most kids to write a poem where they get to talk to some other being – an animal, a fantastical creature, the sun, the wind.
Inspired by Tygers:
This is such a basically satisfying poetry idea that there are many poems you can use for inspiration. Emily Dickenson’s Dear March, Frank O’Hara’s A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island, just for starters. Following Kenneth Koch’s lead, I have introduced this prompt using William Blake’s “The Tyger” many, many times to great success:
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!
When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
This poem benefits from a little breaking down, maybe even translation. Put it in context: there is Blake in 18th century England, where the scariest animal is (at most) a rangy little bear, hearing reports from British India of tigers. Human-eating, fiery-eyed tigers. I find it helpful to almost act out the creation of the tiger, to begin to see some wild hand reaching into the depths of the earth to grab the fire of the tiger’s eyes. And then the mysteries: what does When the stars threw down their spears/And water'd heaven with their tears even mean? I don’t know, but I can picture it. It gives me a feeling of terror and wonder. And then the big question of the poem: what kind of creator would make both lambs and tigers? What kind of world is this, anyway?
Bringing the intensity of the tiger into the prompt encourages kids to have similarly intense encounters. But the prompt is simple:
Write a poem where you got to talk to some other being, asking them any question they want.
If you want, the being can talk back.
“You are big, Sun.”
“You are little, Braden.”
Bobcat, how do you hunt with such mighty powers? How do you get through ragged sharp rocks? You are always smiling but yet you strike fear in rabbits and young rodents. You have stars in your fur. You are the most beautiful wildcat in the woods.
Thank you. You have been good to me Jackson.
Talking back to the pandemic:
In spring of 2020, writing over Zoom with kids on lockdown, I took this prompt in a different direction and had them write poems to the corona virus. Sometimes, when something is hurting or frustrating us, it helps to get to address it directly. There is a power in talking right to something, even just in our imaginations.
We did some pre-writing, thinking about the personality of the virus through a series of metaphor-building questions. If it was a body of water, what kind would it be? If it were a vehicle, what kind? That sort of thing. This helped the children write as if they were talking to a being instead of something as abstract as a virus. You can see echos of those questions in their poems:
Dear Covid 19
Hi, why are you killing so many people?
Are you mad?
Did humans do something to you?
Do you need help?
Anyway let's just talk and get to know each other.
Hi I’m Ella I already know your name,
Covid 19 or Coronavirus, can I call you Co? Ok I'm going to anyway!
Well onto the questions:
What's your favorite colors? Green, yellow, and black, hmm I can see why: they’re like toxic waste and hazard sign colors. Mine are like all cool colors.
What's your favorite genre of music? Rock in’ roll, cool. OK, so you need to know something about me. I don't really have a favorite of anything so ya, don't have a favorite.
This is kinda random but what's your favorite type of terrain? Rocky mountain peaks, ooh yeah that would be fun to rock climb! Hmmm…. Mine would probably a beach idk if that counts but whatever.
Again random but do you have a car? No, but you would like a bombing plane, umm that's kinda creepy……. Well let's just keep going I guess
If you could be any animal/supernatural creature what would you be? A bear or alien, cool I would be... a mermaid (the good kind) or a cat.
If you were a body of water what would you be? Violent ocean, wow, I would probably be perfect water for surfing and boogie boarding.
No offense but if you had hair what style would it be? Mohawk, sick. I probably just go simple and keep mine.
What's your favorite food? Anything spicy, oh I don't really care for spicy things mine would just be.
Umm...what else? Ooh, what type of weather is your favorite? Ocean storm that can kill sailors, bruh that's just messed up! Mine would be maybe sunny with some shade.
What's your favorite tool? Chainsaw. #creepy Well again, I don't have one.
What genre of books do you like? Murder mystery WHY ARE YOU SO CREEPY!? Anyway I like fantasy adventure.
What is your all time favorite book? IT, ok? Mine would be…..ohh I can't decide there's too many to pick from.
What is your favorite board game? Game Of Life, ehh not my favorite but it's your choic. Mine would be Stack Sushi (ok, yeah I know it's not really a board game but I don't care)
What's your favorite drink? Coffee, eww no offense but I hate that. Mine..hmm.. Maybe root beer?
Well it's been nice talking but I have to go now bye.
Sincerely, your new friend Ella
Ps. stop killing people please
A Conversation with Corona
Hello corona virus, what is your name?
Oh, of course, your name is Susan.
You are not fun at all; you sing the saddest of opera songs,
You are a sea of sadness; you ride through the streets of Bellingham in your fastest sports car.
People stop to stare when you go anywhere.
You wear ballgowns and bracelets, high heels and
Slippers and you drink from sauce-covered dippers.
You swim in the lake of death that is so dark blue of inky black stars.
You shook hands with zombies and went with the frombies.
Acid rain poured from the sky wherever you walked.
Your favorite color is purple: you wear it all the time.
For anger and sadness put together, purple is divine.
The zombies you met eat dumpster food.
They look like toads.
They try to slice your head off with surgery knives
And eat you like baloney.
You ran off and pooped in their faces and threw soap
In their eyes.
And you act evil like Voldemort.
Covid 19 Lockdown
What’s up? You done infecting and injecting?
‘Cause we’ve started inspecting on your trails,
It’s gotten quite stale but we’ll find a way to get rid of you!
(Once and for all) So better scadaddle!
Take a break, eat some cake, bathe in a lake. Chill out man!
And so my friend, I’m telling you now,
Just take a vacation, turn into a club,
Just let your thoughts sway. And then
Think of the commotion you’re causing.
And my thought is without you we’ll be able to go,
sing, dance, and play with our friends’ relations and ourselves without any worry we’ll catch a cold or virus!