Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Book Review: Poetry: Starting from Scratch

Once again, summer has arrived and with it, an invitation to volunteer my time on the faculty of The Salvation Army's Indiana Music Camp. I'm grateful for this opportunity to be involved in the music programming, but this year I have the added plus of being in charge of a Creative Writing elective. This fills me with such joy. I don't often miss my old teaching days, but when I do, it is usually a longing for a place to live out my passion and nurture young people with a love of reading and writing. Because it has been so long since I was in charge of a high school Creative Writing class, I decided to seek out some reference material on the subject. The best my library had to offer was this book on teaching poetry by Michael A. Carey.

Even though this text was written in the 1980's, the subject is timeless and the author provides excellent suggestions for opening kids up to a love of writing. Carey emphasizes the importance of communicating your own passion in order to stir up a passion within your students. That sounds easy enough! The first two lessons seek to encourage kids to make their readers feel what they feel and think what they think by the age-old adage, "Show, don't tell" and to do more with less by encouraging them to "say the most you can in the fewest words." Then, Carey moves on to the basic tools, which are not rhyme and rhythm, as some would assume, but are instead metaphor and simile.

I loved several of the suggested exercises like "What If" poems and riddles (taking an ordinary object and comparing it to something so the reader must guess what you are referring to). My favorite exercise? "I'm So Sorry" poems. The author encourages kids to think about making a tongue-in-cheek apology for something they are really not that sorry about. He provides examples of actual poems by kids in his program. One such poem apologized for putting a mouse in his mother's bed but delighting in the shock on her face that "was like watching fireworks on the Fourth of July." Carey also provides lessons for letter poems and first time experience poems.

I'm pretty sure I will use many of his suggested exercises as we work on short works of art in the few sessions we have (I think there are probably only four 40 minute elective sessions, so it is not a lot of time to work with). I will bring in music and pictures to serve as writing prompts and will also bring along the short story prompts I made up for last year's class, when I served as an assistant instructor. Hopefully, the kids will go home with at least a few pieces they can be proud of and I will relish the chance to pass along my passion for writing.

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