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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.
What happened to the pint-sized pig who ran across a sleeping cat?
How does a baby t-rex feel about his condensed version of Alice in Wonderland?
What does a mini panda bear scaling a California orange have to do with poetry?
This week, as part of the Poetry Center’s Matinee series that brings writers to local schools, I had the opportunity to visit Borton Elementary, (thanks to teachers Kathleen Edgars and Caroline Castrillo Pinto who hosted the residency), where the tiny characters pictured above got to mingle with a group of first grade students who jumped head first into writing activities inspired by the work of Kate Bernheimer.
The tiny creatures here were part of a lesson plan that I developed with the help of my colleagues at the Poetry Center. The lesson was one focused on entering into the perspective of something minuscule through writing. One that mirrored some of the motifs found in Bernheimer's children's stories.
Sarah Kortemeier holds an MFA in Poetry from the University of Arizona, and has taught creative writing at the elementary, high school, and university levels. She has published most recently with Folio: A Literary Journal at American University, where her poem "The Holdout" was selected as an Honorable Mention by guest judge Naomi Shihab Nye in Folio's 2011 Poetry Contest. Sarah serves as Library Assistant at the University of Arizona Poetry Center.
Sarah will be teaching an Introduction to Poetry at the Poetry Center on Saturdays at noon from October 29 through December 12.
Risk-taking, with its inherent exhilarations and discomforts, is an integral part of the human experience. And as in life, so in art: good art matters, and poetry that matters demands some vulnerability, some risk, on the part of the writer. We all have something to say--but "saying something" often requires real bravery. In my introductory writing courses, I try to create an environment in which this kind of constructive risk-taking can happen in a secure, safe environment. Workshop is the poet's best friend: it's the place where writers can try out new ideas on a small, select audience whose main concern is to help the writer succeed. As writers, many of us need the encouragement of the workshop, the safe space and the sensitive readers we encounter there, in order to take the risks that make us better artists. In my upcoming Introduction to Poetry course, we'll encourage each other to make room for the wild associative leaps and flashes of insight that lead to inventive poem-making. We'll work together to move outside our normal patterns of speech and thought, and in the process we'll make some new music and find some exciting new poems. I hope you'll join us!
Speak Peace: American Voices Respond to Vietnamese Children is an international, collaborative traveling art exhibit out of Kent State featuring paintings by Vietnamese children and American responses in the form of poetry. The Poetry Center invites you to visit this exhibit from now through September 23, 2011. On Saturday, September 17, from 11:30 - 12:30 participants in the Hopi Foundation's Owl & Panther Project will give a reading of their responses to the paintings in this exhibit. Join us.
I have no specific qualifications to address authenticity in writing as it relates to war, so let's get that out of the way. Assisting with Marge Pellegrino in the Speak Peace project has been my first experience of the kind. My students in the Tohono O'odham and Yaqui communities live with hardship, pain, and grief to a degree I scarcely can imagine, and produce writing of a rare eloquence and authenticity from that background, but I realize it isn't the same.
I even find it hard to define the slippery "authentic." We can't even say that "we know it when we see it." We may not agree upon what strikes that note in us when we read, view, or hear what we believe to be authentic. Sincerity seems a necessary component but not a sufficient one. Rarely do we hear the response, "I admire the authenticity of the piece, but unfortunately it's terrible." The authentic must capture a truth, as well, and probably artfully.
by Elizabeth Falcón
As we were planning out our week-long middle school summer camp, "What's in the Box: Creative Writing in 3D", at the Poetry Center, my co-teacher Erin and I were trying to anticipate what we would do during the first half hour of every morning. We didn't want to start a lesson while waiting for the campers who might be straggling in late, but we didn't want our campers just sitting around waiting to start.
I remembered reading somewhere (I think it might have been in David Morice's The Adventures of Dr. Alphabet) about some kind of collaborative furniture project, where students were allowed to write poems on a chair. And it gave me an idea. What if we had a week-long collaborative project we were working on every morning before camp?
We looked for a piece of furniture and, as luck would have it, a friend was giving away a nice old cabinet with drawers and doors and nice little nooks and crannies. We decided that during a lesson on character creation the first day, the class, as an example, would create a collaborative character first, who would become the basis for the collaborative cabinet project during the week. (Erin and I prematurely called the cabinet "Sam.")
We planned out short activities day by day that the students could do to elaborate on Sam, such as cover a drawer with the place(s) Sam lives, fill a drawer with objects from Sam's pockets, write a secret Sam has and fold it so no one can see it. We even had an exquisite corpse activity where students would take turns writing on the cabinet one line at a time to create a story about Sam.
If you enjoyed the activities at our Young at Art Festival, or if you weren't able to make it, below are the directions to one of the poem-making activities led by UA student and teaching artist Jillian Andrews. Enjoy!
by Daniela Ugaz
Daniela moved to Tucson about a year and a half ago to start her MFA. Since then she's been spending some of her time writing, some of it teaching, some of it reading, organizing, scrounging up money and, without which none of the other things would be possible, napping! Life is good.
I started working with kids when I was twenty. That was four years ago. Now that I think about it, actually, I babysat a couple times when I was in my early teens. It was a little boy. I don't remember his name anymore. I didn't like babysitting very much, I remember that. And the boy's mother stopped calling after I lied a few times, saying I couldn't, saying I had a swim meet or play practice. The next time I worked with kids I was a teaching assistant for a summer journalism workshop for "at risk" middle schoolers. Those kids were hard on me, or maybe I took it that way mistakenly. I'll never be president, one of the boys once said to me. The teacher had just said something like you can be anything you want to be, as long as you set your mind to it. I didn't know what to say to him. I liked the idea of that job more than the job itself.
by Elizabeth Maria Falcón
Kimi Eisele's blog, "Big Sky Lessons: Reflections from a traveling teaching artist in rural Arizona" is a fantastic site for teaching inspiration. A recent blog post, "Lessons in Softness" reflects on a teaching experience she had near Safford on the San Carlos Apache reservation. Students had been asked to write an animal fable in one week, and Kimi was there to guide them through the writing process. She discusses the struggle she experienced between getting students to write and allowing students to discover what they have to say through creative movement and play.
Here is an excerpt from her blog post from one of the class periods where they explored animals through creative movement:
by Joni Wallace
Joni Wallace's poetry collection Blinking Ephemeral Valentine was selected by Mary Jo Bang for the 2009 Levis Prize and is forthcoming from Four Way Books (March, 2011). Her poems have been published in Boston Review, Barrow Street, Blue Mesa Review, Conduit, Cutbank, Forklift, Ohio, Laurel Review and have been featured in Connotations Press, An Online Artifact. She holds an MFA from the University of Montana. Joni is also a musician and co-founder, with poet Ann Dernier, of Poets' Studio.
"These are the poetry birds, Mom," says my beaming five-year-old, presenting me with her drawing. "And...they are famous." For the last two years these birds have graced the wall in the room where I write. If they had a song, it would be "attention, pay attention." And they remind of something Dean Young wrote of poets: we are trying to make birds, not birdhouses. This same "birdness" is what Richard Shelton calls "claritas:" those moments of clairvoyant transcendence that come through poems when poems work.
by Sarah Kortemeier
Sarah Kortemeier is a teaching artist and is completing her MFA at the University of Arizona. She also teaches undergraduate poetry and composition courses at the U of A.
The Poetry Center's first fall Poetry Joeys is happening this Saturday, Sept. 25th at 10:00 a.m.
When I taught Poetry Joeys for the 7-9 age group this spring at the Poetry Center, I had the pleasure of working with a class of very energetic and intellectually curious children. During our first lesson, one boy asked me if I knew what a chimera was: clearly, this was a group of kids who loved words. I saw immediately that many of the students were deeply attracted to learning the sense of new words; by the acquisition and use of complex vocabulary, they were attempting to achieve a more diverse, complicated, and sophisticated view of the world.
Needless to say, this class was a blast to teach.