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By Nina Vega-Westhoff
A classmate one day brought in to Laynie Browne's course "At the Intersection of Writing and Teaching" the Michael Stillman poem "In Memoriam John Coltrane." The poem was exciting, an immediate encounter with repetition, rhythm, and word play. As a class, we seemed to have a collective a ha! moment with the poem--I personally felt I should have discovered this poem long before--and so it seemed an ideal literary model around which to structure a lesson. But I wasn't sure how to do so--there were so many possibilities immediately suggested and yet I wasn't sure where I wanted to go with it.
A review by Elizabeth Falcón
Elizabeth is the Poetry Center's Education Intern. She is also a poet, MFA student, teaching artist, and a mother of two.
I recently sat down with my kids (ages 2 and 4) to watch the HBO Classical Baby's The Poetry Show, not really knowing what to expect. What we found was a half-hour introduction to the essence of poetry, hosted by young children, who, in addition to introducing poems from William Shakespeare to Robert Frost, also explicate the poems with accessible, insightful observations.
by Laynie Browne & Benjamin and Jacob Davidson
Laynie Browne is the author of eight collections of poetry, most recently The Desires of Letters (Counterpath Press, 2010). She is Elementary Education Coordinator for the Poetry Center and is currently developing an interdisciplinary outreach program to connect scientists and writers at University of Arizona and in the greater Tucson community.
Benjamin Davidson just finished 5th grade. His hobbies include writing, fossil hunting and spending time with his pet rabbit, Bunny Bunkins.
Jacob Davidson just finished 3rd grade. He loves math, bionicles, mechanical pencils, drawing and writing adventure and science fiction stories and comics. He also likes to take apart machines.
by Glen Grunberger
Glen Grunberger worked for many years as a somewhat sane, relatively stable attorney in Austin, Texas before committing the decidely un-sane, entirely destabilizing act of moving to Tucson last summer to enroll in the University of Arizona's MFA program in Creative Writing. He has just completed his first year as a fiction writer in the program, and while he's quite certain he's no longer certain of anything, he loves being able to say he hangs out with poets. Glen is accompanied by his fearless wife Sara, who teaches biology at Cholla High School in Tucson, and their dog, Maya, who teaches them both how to be human.
Of all the lessons I taught this past spring in my residency at Corbett Elementary, one of the easiest and most fun was writing poems "by" the children's pets. I introduced poems from the book Unleashed: Poems by Writers' Dogs as a springboard for the children to channel their favorite animals' voices. The goal was to tap into the ready enthusiasm and imaginative connections kids have for their pets and write poems from the first-person perspective of the animals. The lesson turned out to be a great way to exercise the young writers' skills with personification and dialogue and to develop that most essential of writerly muscles, empathy.
By Wendy Burk
Wendy is the Poetry Center's Library Specialist, who works with Rodney Phillips to maintain the library and assist patrons in accessing the collection. She is a poet with an MFA from The University of Arizona, and is also a translator of Spanish.
During this past academic year, 1,100 people visited the Poetry Center for field trips and tours. Students of all ages, from preschool to university, come to the Poetry Center and it is our job to make poetry come alive for them with time to read, write, and explore the Helen S. Schaefer Building.
Molly Reed's first- and second-grade class from Borton Magnet Primary School was the first student group to try out a new curriculum designed and led by Poetry Center docent Sandy Szelag. Inspired by a visit to the Desert Museum and poet Pablo Neruda's "Odes to Common Things," Sandy developed a field trip that introduces the Ode/Praise Poem form to elementary school students with the help of a Pack Rat puppet named Pablo Neruda. A week after the Borton class visit, Rosalie Perales's first- and second-grade students from Miles Exploratory Learning Center experienced the same curriculum.
by Erin Armstrong
Erin Armstrong lives in Tucson, AZ and loves the unbearable heat that the desert offers. She is currently working on her M.F.A. in fiction at the University of Arizona and is trying to tackle the short story form. Her primary interest lies in the intersection of the genres, and the creation of hybrid pieces. She has read for Sonora Review, interned at Madden Media in the editorial department, and will be working with the magazine CutThroat next fall. She recently finished teaching at Keeling Elementary as a Teaching Artist and will be working for Summer Fine Arts this summer.
I don't think anyone will disagree that television, movies, and the Internet are entities that surround our students. I recently taught two fourth grade classes at Keeling Elementary, and one of my most successful lessons was allowing students to incorporate the characters that they have come to love, through these mediums, into their writing. I found that students weren't as exposed to reading books as I had expected, but television was something in their everyday life. While my ultimate goal was to promote reading and writing, I found that referencing a medium that students were familiar with helped me encourage the act of reading and writing. Students talked about this lesson plan for weeks, and I could often use this lesson as a reference in explaining other aspects of writing. This lesson gives students the chance to explore back-story, character development, description, and if they chose to mimic the literary model (the poem) they have a chance to explore rhyme.
Interview by Sol Davis
Sol: As a child at a recent birthday party asked after being released from the coils of your tale spinning: "How do you remember the stories?" In other words, what is your process for storytelling?
Jordan: My process is pretty straightforward--I read or hear a story, and then I try to tell it to someone (anyone!). If it's written, I might read it again, but the best way for me to remember it is simply to tell it, as much as possible. I have a pretty good memory, so that helps. But more importantly is the fact that remembering stories is NOT the same as memorizing, as people often think. Rather, it is more akin to remembering life experiences. For the most part, people don't have to work to remember remarkable things that have happened to them in their life (or their day yesterday)--it simply happens, and when someone asks, "How was your day?" you don't think twice before telling the story of whatever happened. In the same way, if one imagines a story vividly enough (whether through hearing it, reading it, or seeing it performed), then it almost becomes like one's own memories, and simply telling the story becomes as natural as telling a friend what happened to you the other day.
by Ann Dernier
Asked to lead a Kore Press Grrls Literary Activism Workshop, I saw myself as "activator" charged with bringing poetry to and coaxing it out of the lives of teen girls ages 14-19 while guiding them on their own path to activism in a public setting. But mainly and not so secretly, I began every workshop with poetry while on our journey to the center of our social justice issues.
We started by "waxing poetic"--a printing process using wax paper and newsprint. The girls chose random words or phrases from the newspaper, (or even with an eye for random invention), and rubbed them onto the wax paper, and then "reprinted" by rubbing them in the same or new order onto white paper. You couldn't rub them the wrong way! In the end, the girls had "found" poems with unexpected, activated language such as "A day ripe for Cadillac opportunity."
Colleen Burns is a volunteer and avid supporter of the Poetry Center. She and her granddaughter Anika are Poetry Joeys regulars and they spend quite a bit of time writing together.
About writing with Anika, Collen says:
Children Anika's age (3-7) have rich imaginations and large vocabularies that can construct sophisticated stories if the physical act of writing doesn't get in the way. When children are asked to 'write' a story using an unwieldy pencil and unruly paper, this sheer physical act of writing slows down and sometimes can stop a story altogether.