Saturday, December 16, 2017

Finding Poems

Sadie, Grade 5

In one of my favorite poems "Valentine for Ernest Mann" by Naomi Shihab Nye the idea of where we  find our poetry is explored. Nye starts the poems by telling the reader that "You can't order a poem like you order a taco./ Walk up to the counter, say, "I'll take two"/and expect to have it to be handed back to you on a shiny plate."

Valentine for Ernest Mann
By: Naomi Shihab Nye

  You can't order a poem like you order a taco.
  Walk up to the counter, say, "I'll take two"
  and expect it to be handed back to you
  on a shiny plate.

  Still, I like your spirit.
  Anyone who says, "Here's my address
  write me a poem," deserves a something in reply.
  So I'll tell you a secret instead:
  poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
  they are sleeping. They are the shadows
  drifting across our ceilings the moment
  before we wake up. What we have to do
  is live in a way that lets us find them.

  Once I knew a man who gave his wife
  two skunks for a valentine.
  He couldn't understand why she was crying.
  "I thought they had such beautiful eyes."
  And he was serious. He was a serious man
  who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly
  just because the world said so. He really
  liked those skunks. So, he reinvented them
  as valentines and they became beautiful.
  At least, to him. And the poems that had been hiding
  in the eyes of skunks for centuries
  crawled out and curled up at his feet.

  Maybe if we reinvent whatever our lives give us
  we find poems. Check your garage, the odd sock
  in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite.
  And let me know.

I love the absurdity of this idea, ordering a taco poem. It makes me imagine a whole fantasy, fast food restaurant where a person could actually order literature. You could order a novella, hold the cheese, with a side of similes if you weren't that hungry. Or you could order a trilogy, a sonnet, and an ode for dessert if you had worked up a literary appetite.

However, despite the literary tangent the poem inspires in my brain, what I really love about these lines are the meaning behind ordering a poem like a taco. The reality is that the best writing does not come to us prepackaged, and without any work. Authentic poetry that truly touches us, and speaks with our voice, can't be manufactured, or bought. So where does it come from?

Cianna, 4th grade

Nye goes on to explore ideas where her poetry comes from in the rest of the poem. She tells the reader that poems hide in small moments like "the shadows/drifting across our ceilings the moment/ before we wake up." Poems can exist in recognizing beauty in something that others don't see the beauty in like two skunks that a man gives his wife as a Valentine's present in the poem because he thought they were beautiful. Finally, Nye explains that perhaps "if we re-invent whatever our lives give us/we find poems. Check your garage, the off sock/ in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite."

At the end of our poetry unit, I share and discuss this poem with my students. We talk about the ideas we like best, and the images that stick with us after we read it. Students are always intrigued with using the off sock in their drawers as inspiration to write. In fact, after a lively discussion about where those odd socks go one year, we all brought in a sock that had lost its partner and wrote a fictional story about what happens to those lost socks. We hung the socks and the stories in the hallway, and had a lot of fun investigating the adventures of this long lost socks.

For this poem I ask students to share where they find their poetry. What little details in life can inspire a poem? What can we re-imagine and find beauty inside of to create a poem? Where does our spark of writing and inspiration come from? These poems always strike a chord with me. They allow students to really reflect on themselves as writers and think about the writing process.

How do you write? Where do you find your poems? If you want to find out, try writing poetry poems in your classroom. Rediscover your inspiration by exploring the moments that make poetry in your life.
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