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Kate Bernheimer Matinee: A lesson in the poetry of Loneliness

"Lonely is like reading on your own."

"Lonely is like singing the Dia de los Muertos song."


Two weeks ago, Borton Magnet School had a special visit from author Kate Bernheimer as part of the Poetry Center’s Matinee series that brings local writers into area schools. The students had been waiting for her visit, prepping by reading and writing poetry based on Bernheimer’s books for the past month. The students came with a list of questions for Bernheimer including “Where do you write?” “Do you make the pictures?” “Where do you get your ideas?” “Who is Xia?” Bernheimer answered their questions and read to them from a class favorite, The Girl Who Wouldn’t Brush Her Hair. Together, the Aloha and Earth rooms discussed the process of making the story with its author, who told them that she had gotten to read their class poems before coming to visit.



The final slice of our Matinee pie came the following week, when I had the opportunity to go back to Borton and lead a follow up lesson tying in Kate’s visit with the students’ own reading and writing. The students at Borton learn a lot about the process of making a book—what a dedication page is, how a narrative grows, which neighborhoods their local Tucson authors call home. During our final visit, we created a class story book in which students created collaboratively as both author and illustrator of the collected stories.


We began our hour-long lesson by talking about Bernheimer’s visit the previous week. The students brought up Kate’s long white sweater (“like a fairy’s”) and their long discussion with her about losing pets. The students had ventured out on Halloween the evening before Bernheimer’s visit, and to the Dia de Los Muertos parade the evening before my last lesson, so they still had some of that fairytale juice in them, made of equal parts darkness and light. This time, we read “The Lonely Book” together. When asked, many of the students remembered the names of both the author and the illustrator of the book, as well as their process of making the story together.

After reading, we talked about what the lonely feeling is like. I asked the students if lonely was always a sad feeling. I asked if they could tell me about a time that being lonely wasn’t a bad thing. Or if any of their pets might feel lonely, or not lonely without them. I had the students "buddy buzz" and talk to a partner about a time they had lost a pet, and then asked a few to share what they had heard from their partner.

From there, the students wrote a collaborative fill-in poem on flip paper. We began with a list of “I am lonely when__________” sentences, and then moved to “My (______) is lonely when _______”.  Finally, we transformed our thinking into similes, and I brought out a sheet with pre-written lonely sentences that opened into to “Lonely is like___________”  blanks. Below are our lonely class poems:


I am lonely when my rock is sad.

I am lonely when I can’t find my gingerbread man.

I am lonely when my mom and dad eat lunch and go into space.

I am lonely when I go to my brother’s soccer practice.

My (puppy) is not lonely when she’s with her friend Princess.

My (sister) is lonely when she dies.

Lonely is like floating in outer space.

Lonely is like making friends with rocks and trees.

Lonely is like eating candy for dinner when no one will tell me to stop.

Lonely is like being sad.

Lonely is like going crazy at the house by myself.

Lonely is like destroying the house.

Lonely is like when I’m not hugging my brother.


Lonely is like being lost in the park.

Lonely is like being the only seed by itself in an apple.

Lonely is like being a Martian traveling to Earth on an adventure.

Lonely is like being kind

Lonely is like being at the beach and the library

Lonely is like singing the “Dia de los Muertos” song.

Lonely is like being on the bus.

Lonely is like reading on your own.


As we wrote together, I encouraged the students to let their answers get crazy or silly as we got to the simile sections. I even got to hear the Earth Room sing the Dia de los Muertos song together.

Afterwards, we divided the class in half and had the students sit down at their desks. We handed out brightly colored sheets of paper with templates printed on them outlining space for writing and space for illustrating on the page. First, I instructed the students to write down their own story about being lonely in the space provided that looked like:


Once, ________________________________________

Was lonely in the_______________________________

This lonely was like______________________________



We gave the students about fifteen minutes to write, walking around the classroom and assisting with ideas and spelling (a big thanks to Mason, and to the classroom teachers and teaching assistants for their help here!). Once the students had completed their sentences, I had the two halves of the classroom switch papers, and then prompted the students to make a drawing about the sentence they received. This transition required a bit of explaining, and help in reading a peer’s sentences, but once they began, the students made wonderful drawings inspired by their own classmates’ writing in the black-framed box below the words . At the end of our illustration period, I collected the colored templates, which I’d hole-punched in advance, made a cover, and tied them together with a string to make a class book.


We read from our class story book together, and I pointed out some wonderful collaborations between illustrators and authors in the class. When I left, the Aloha and Earth rooms sent me home with lovely thank you notes for both myself and Kate Bernheimer.


We had  a wonderful time visiting Borton and working with the students and teachers there. A special thank you to both the Borton classroom teachers Kathleen Edgars and Caroline Castrillo Pinto for hosting, and to Kate Bernheimer for participaiting in our Matinee Series.






Sarah Minor is the Education Intern at the Poetry Center, and Co-Edits the wordplay blog. She is a current MFA candidate in Creative Nonfiction at the University of Arizona.

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