Excuse the long haitus here — I’ve been distracted by going to a writing conference, nursing my daughter through the dreaded Cousin Bug, nursing myself through the Cousin Bug, and buying a house. It’s been quite a month.
But meanwhile, the kids are writing. Or not writing. Or they would be writing if they knew what to write. So here’s an idea: write about something you love, something that doesn’t get enough appreciation. Show us the details. Help us understand.
At the writing conference, I hung out a lot with a poet friend of mine who loves basketball. As this was back in March, that basketballiest of months, hanging out involved watching the end of a game on the hotel bar TV, surrounded by writers who couldn’t care less about the game. I also did not care, at least at first. Now, I played basketball on a team in eighth grade, because my friends did. I never figured out how to dribble, or what the things my coach yelled meant, and I had an undiagnosed knee injury that would later need surgery that I ran on all season, but I could pass and I was always open, and was still I think a small help to my team. But I don’t claim to really understand the beauty of the game. However, watching in that bar with the excited commentary of my basketball-obsessed friend, it was a new game. The drama, the art, the poor teary sophomores who gave their all, the lowness of the other (winning) team….
Because that’s what happens when you see something through eyes that love that thing. This is one of the powers writing has — to lend other people new ways to see what we love.
Writing what you love
You can write about what you love in many ways. Some of my favorite essays unlock some random thing the author feels strongly about. And love of something is at the heart of many novels and poems too. But let’s look at one kind of poem today: odes.
Odes are poems that honor something, and modern odes are often expressions of wonder or gratitude towards neglected and unnoticed things. Kids love writing odes to funny things, as well as serious ones. There are tons more great odes to show them. You can go classic and read “Ode to a Grecian Urn” by John Keats: Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all/Ye know on earth and all ye need to know – that’s all you need to know to google that one. Pablo Neruda has a whole pile of great odes, including one about socks.
But it’s a form that is alive and well and well, lively today, so it’s a perfect opportunity to share the work of living poets, such as Ross Gay of course, or Jamila Woods, who is not only alive, but is young and so cool she is literally a rock star, or a celebrated recording artist anyway. Her poem “Ode to Herb Kent” is about an iconic radio DJ in Chicago. The internet has lots of recordings of his shows you can play while reading her poem. My kids liked that.
After reading one ode or a few, try writing one to something most people don’t find beautiful. Or write one to a stranger who has touched your life: the checker at the grocery store, a neighborhood character, a Youtuber. Write one to something so everyday you’ve never even imagined it could be in a poem. Write one to your favorite tree.
How to write an ode:
Speak directly to that thing: "Oh, new sneakers, I love your rubbery new smell." Give lots of details so we can see/hear/smell how awesome the thing you love is. If this is a poem, that's an ode!
Write an ode and win! (Maybe)
Also, there is an ode writing contest happening right now, for kids in 5th-12th grades. So if an ode comes out that your young poet feels good about, and not winning won’t shake their sense of themselves as writers, they may want to submit it. My fingers are crossed for them if they do!