Thursday, January 6, 2011

Back to work

I haven't written much about writing in this blog allegedly about writing and rural living. Today, though, I go back to my fourth day at my new job (more on that later -- or not) and back to co-teaching the creative writing elective at the alternative high school. This term we're doing poetry. After feeling actively thwarted and nearly defeated by -- uh, hmmmm -- certain processes within the school system, I am gathering up a little emotional momentum as I pack the books Olive and I will need for the class. Whether we get much writing done is one thing, but we will get some "enrichment" in.

The plan for today is for the students to each write a catalogue poem. AKA, a list poem. Part of the rhythm and structure is provided by this repeating phrase:

If I were a _________,
I'd be a _______________,
because __________________________.

The first two parts is where exploration comes in as I have brought in books on native plants; horses; birds; art by Michelangelo, Brueghel, and Goya; Chinese characters; saltwater fish; knots and splices; mushrooms; and weather. We will also wing it without books on such possibilities as tools, geometric shapes, land forms, architectural structures....

The "because" part is where the students work on "unpacking". I've noticed that the teens have a tendency to compress all their thinking and description into single words that are often so general as to convey no significant meaning. Words like: awesome, cool, hella.

If someone writes:

If I were a mushroom,
I'd be an amanita muscaria,
because they're so awesome!

That doesn't really tell you much about what's going on in the writer's head or even anything identifying about the mushroom if you don't know it. (But, yes, this species is a favorite among high school writers.)

But if someone writes,

If I were a rock,
I'd be malachite.
It emits a poison gas when cut -- don't mess with me!

That at least is telling you a little something about the rock but also about the state of mind of the writer. (It also shows the writer how s/he can play with the suggested rhythm of the poem, breaking it and reintroducing it, to manipulate and maintain attention.)

But -- wow! time is getting on and for now, I gotta go let the ducks out, milk the goats, and head off to work.