I’m super excited to announce that my students made an anthology! It’s called Raindrops from the Sun, and anyone, including you, can buy it on Amazon.
Why should you buy it?
Well in my totally unbiased proud teacher opinion it’s awesome. But also, it’s a really powerful thing for anyone to see themselves represented in the literary canon. If it seems like the slow-motion conversation we call literature is happening in a closed room between a bunch of old, dead, white men, how boring and silencing to the rest of us. (Also, how creepy: a room full of dead guys talking. Eek!)
I imagine you think about making sure your children read books written by and about people of many races and genders and life experiences. Excellent. I’ve found that as kids start to write, it’s also really empowering for them to hear things written by other kids. This is one of the reasons why I love working with Kenneth Koch’s poetry teaching books, like Wishes, Lies, and Dreams, which are full of poems written by kids in New York City public schools in the 1960’s. Those poems are lively and inspiring, but they’re also old! Enter Raindrops from the Sun. Poems (and other writings) done by kids, now. And while they are organized by themes instead of prompts, many of the poems are in response to prompts I’ve written about here.
The poetry of juxtaposition
OK, enough of a plug. But while you’re here, I want to talk about how fun it was to put the anthology together. See, I LOVE juxtaposition. I love it when two things gain a new meaning or weight just by hanging out near each other, and I love seeing how that meaning shifts when they are put in different arrangements.
There is a kind of art in this and a kind of logic. I first experienced this at Stanford, when I took classes with Ken Fields. Besides being a professor, he was a poet, a recovering alcoholic, and a Texan. He brought his dog, Dixie, to class. He took the elevator while the rest of us took the stairs. You couldn't take notes in his class, because one minute he was talking about Renaissance ballads, the next Leonard Cohen, and the next a feud his family had in Kentucky in the 1800's. I took two classes from him: a poetry survey class, and a Native American literature class. This was in the era of my education when I chose my classes partially by whether or not the classroom had windows; Professor Fields taught upstairs. In both classes, he had us make an anthology of readings from the class. He wanted us to retype them into one document, order them so that the conversation between pieces felt powerful, and introduce each one with a sentence or two of our own. I loved these projects, their focus on juxtaposition and form rather than clinical dissection of literature. They were creative, and pulled on a kind of thinking I love.
As I worked with my students’ pieces this summer, finding common threads, grouping them and reordering them, they began to feel more and more powerful, as each small piece became part of a conversation.
So don’t be shy, anthologize!
I heartily encourage you all to make your own anthologies, and to try it as a project with your young writers. Whether you make collections of your own writing or of writing you love, whether you anthologize whole poems or quotes from longer pieces, whether you make a poster or a file or publish it on Amazon, it can be a satisfying project that calls on the meaning-seeking parts of the brain in some fun and unusual ways. And when you’re done, you can plug your anthology enthusiastically to me and I will absolutely get excited with you.