I’m kind of my students’ biggest fans. I’m not going to arm-wrestle any of their parents over the title, because I know parental love creates a super-human strength, hence the kind of, but I think my students are pretty darn awesome.
And their writing! It’s a regular thing for something they write to give me actual chills, or make me want to wave their paper in the air and shout. And there are lines in their work I carry with me like I carry other literature, that do that work poems do of making words/worlds strange and clear and yes. The animals who were together but “lonely as dust.” The particular rhythm of certain phrases….
And yes, the literature I gravitate towards outside of work has more adult complexity and fewer cats, and yes, maybe some of my delight about the writers spills into my appreciation of the poems (doesn’t that happen for lots of art we like?), but also young people write powerful, fresh things that deserve adult consideration. Not to mention, approaching children’s writing with an eye towards delight and a willingness to be moved is good pedagogy.
Kids in the conversation:
The other thing that I feel is important about openly appreciating kids’ poetry, besides getting to enjoy its awesomeness, is that it begins to create a literary conversation in which they are active speakers. They get to be in the canon, so to speak. Reading kids’ writing inspires kids to write things that inspire other kids to write. Etc.
In that spirit, and because there was an excellent poetry idea in it, when my student Lucy read the following poem in class last week, I asked her if I could use it as the basis for a poetry prompt. So with her gracious permission, here it is.
I hear the boom-bap of the music on the radio
It thumps like the slamming of the door,
Slammed by the kids on their way out the door.
Hey, says the one with the baseball cap.
Nod back at him.
Nod like the store owner nods to the music as he hangs up the closed sign.
Hang up like the other kid hangs up his phone, rolling his eyes cause it was his mom.
Roll like the man doing parkour down the alley, flipping off walls and rolling to a stop.
Alley like the bowling alley with the sign on the door that says half off Fridays, but you don’t bowl.
Bowl like for soup that you forgot on the table because it’s too exciting to wait.
Forgot like graffiti scrawled on the wall, a language meaningless unless you wrote it.
Language like the store owner, who speaks in Spanish that you don’t know, except how to count to ten and colors.
Colors like the city, blanketed in explosions from above, as fireworks light the night sky.
Blanket like the one in your bag because your mom said you’d be cold.
Mom like the one who told you to be safe.
Safe like the ladder on the side of the building.
Ladder like the fire escape that leads you to the top of the building.
Fire like the fireworks that go boom above.
Boom like the boom-bap of the city.
Write a poem where one word from the first line repeats in the second line, a different word from the second line repeats in the third line and so on. Make one word in the last line repeat from the first line to make the poem a loop. Or write a story where the same rule applies to sentences instead of lines.
I’ve been teaching this prompt all week and it’s spurred many delightful, powerful pieces of writing. May it spur many more!
(Also, I’d recommend Wishes, Dreams, and Lies and Poetry Everywhere if you’re looking for sources for lots of poems by kids.)
If you like A Few Crooked Words (or heck, if you just read this far), please share it. I’d love it to reach all the parents and teachers it can. Let’s help all kids love writing! Thank you.