Spoken Poetry: Walls Are for Tearing Down

The theme of this week at Letters to the President is all about spoken poetry. I can’t seem to shake the metaphor of the “walls” going up and wanted to try to counter that image. What if the walls came down and we build something new out of the rubble? (After I wrote the poem and made the digital piece  — using the Adobe Spark app, if you are curious — I thought about the vote in Britain. So maybe tearing things down to rubble isn’t always the best political option.)

Walls Are for Tearing Down

Peace (please),
Kevin

Getting Groans and Writing Poems (for Two Voices)

Poems for Two Mathematical Voices

I knew this assignment would elicit some groans. And so it did. We were nearing the end of our poetry unit with Poems for Two Voices, and with our state math test on the horizon, I decided to have them write Poems for Two Voices on a math theme.

Poems for Two Mathematical Voices

You’d have thought I had told them to stick their toes into a vat of boiling tar. It’s funny how much kids create these illusionary walls between curricular areas. What do you mean, we are writing in social studies? Why are we learning argument writing in science? Why is math the topic of our poetry?

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 5.17.18 AM

But the reality is, we live in an interdisciplinary world, right? So, the more we do a bit of everything — particularly literacy — in the content areas, the better off our students will be.

Thus: poems with a math concept.

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 5.19.35 AM

In reality (teacher moment), the writing of the poems became another way for me (in support of our math teacher) to go over math vocabulary in a way beyond the textbook. I won’t say too many of the poems were deep explorations of mathematical themes (far too many were addition vs subtraction … boring) but learning a new form of poem with an underlying element like math does make for something different.

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 5.19.13 AM

So, I ignore the groans as they write the poems! And then, they sat with partners and read their poems (as these should be) with partners to get a feel and sense of the flow.

Peace (in the poem),
Kevin

Writing with Light: I Fear I Left the Poem Behind

I fear I left the poem behind

I was reading the Sunday newspaper, when I came upon an interview with a writer who has published a new book about the history of computer Word Processors. The writer is Mathew Kirschenbaum and his book is Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing.

The conversation was interesting (including one point where he found historical references to writing on the screen as “writing with light” — that stuck with me and became ‘refolding these pockets of light’ in the poem), as it centered on the ways early Word Processing programs changed the way some people write (or at least, the perceptions of the writing process).

The interview references a famous quote by Joan Didion about how writing is a bit like sculpture, and a writer chips away to create form. Didion was referring to creative non-fiction writing from the strands of inquiry and research, I am sure, but I starting thinking of poetry in context to her insight, and how space and inference play a part in writing poetry. What you leave out is as important as what you leave in.

Writing nonfiction is more like sculpture, a matter of shaping the research into the finished thing. - Joan Didion

I’ve seen the Didion quote before but something about it, in context to the discussion about digital writing, stuck with me for the day, and that led to the poem above, called I Fear I Left the Poem Behind.

Peace (with hammers and chisels),
Kevin

Collaboration and Chaos: The Best Laid Plans Sometimes Fall Apart

Collaborative HaikuI am a big fan of the potential of collaborative projects. I’ve instigated my fair share of activities in online spaces, inviting people to make with me, and I’ve participated in even more. There’s often a certain “magic” with writing and creating with other people with digital tools that demonstrates attributes that get at the heart of how technology is changing the ways we learn. Collaboration has often been the heart and soul of the Making Learning Connected MOOC (and some of us still hope to launch a version of CLMOOC this summer) and Digital Writing Month and Rhizomatic Learning, etc.

I’ve done versions of those projects in my classroom, too, but harnessing the energy of 12 year olds can be a bit tricky, so I often have to think through the process before launching into them.

A collaborative poetry project this week reminded me of the difficulties of working with young writers not all that accustomed to working with others this way. We’ve used the “sharing” element of Google Docs and Slides this year, mostly for peer feedback. I know they share with friends, and I’ve seen some “side projects” among them.

In this case, I created a large Google Slideshow for our haikus, and told them to “choose a blank slide as your own” and create a haiku image. I also did a mini-lesson on using Creative Commons images as well as design principles, which we clearly are still working on. I had this vision of a beautiful and engaging activity, where nearly 80 haikus with images from across four classes would come together in a seamless way.

I reminded them not to tinker with anyone else’s slides because it was an quasi-open slideshow (they needed to be logged into school Google accounts to access it).

You see where this is going?

The first class of the day was wonderful. They did a great job, although some of their images wouldn’t load later in the day. It went nearly exactly as I planned. It was downhill from there. The second class did fine, but I got a few who shouted across the room to other students to “get out of my slide.” Some were confusing the icons at the top of the project (which shows all collaborators) with intrusion into an individual slide. A mini-lesson ensued.

The third class had trouble right at the start because the wireless connection caused the slideshow to load slow, and some chose what seemed to be an empty slide, only to realize it wasn’t empty after all. And some students there tried to leave little notes for friends in their slides. That got some writers upset.

The fourth class (a challenging group at times) .. I decided to assign a slide number of blank slides for each to work on. You are Slide 56. You are Slide 74. This seemed logical to me at the time as a way to avoid confusion over who was working in which slides.

But then, someone added in a few slides at the start, by accident (maybe), and all of the numbered slides were suddenly off, and so we had some more confusion over which person had which number. Someone deleted a blank slide. The numbers were off yet again. Another student accidentally set her image as the theme for the entire slideshow, so that now everyone had an image of green grass as their background. Shouts and murmurs. The “undo” key fixed it but not before a wave of complaints hit the air.

Collaboration suddenly edged up to chaos. It was like some strange comedy routine unfolding in a virtual space in real time.

At that point, I just said “grab a slide and add your poem” and let it be what it was. The result is an interesting slideshow, and a story to tell, but not everyone got their poems into the collaboration project. The ones that are there are very cool, though. I still love the idea.

And off course, I have not given up on collaboration. Still, my experience does raise the question of how to best guide students in this kind of low-stakes activity. And it reminds me, too, of why many teachers often don’t take that step forward into online collaboration. I was doing a lot of unexpected management of collaboration when what I really wanted the day built on implicit trust that they could do this rather simple task of collaboration.

What I forgot to remember was the innate curiosity and social nature of sixth graders. Duh.

Peace (in collaboration with you),
Kevin

 

Writing 30 Poems (maybe more) in 30 Days

It’s not the first time I have tried to write a poem every day for an entire month, but I always start and think: I am never going to do this. I am never going to find enough things to write about. I am going to bore myself and everyone else with my feeble verse. This is what I think before I write and then forget about while I write.

Luckily, I had some friends along the way. Mary Lee, Carol and Carol, and Steve, and Margaret, and assorted others who were also writing poems, if not every day than most days. Actually, Mary Lee’s project to write poems about her family tree inspired by an old photo album got many of us writing poems in her blog’s comments, too. Writing is a different experience — more connected — when you write with others.

I started off the month in a sort of free-style mode, not choosing a particular style/genre nor topic, and I used a variety of technology tools to construct the writing into something more design-friendly. As always, when writing in bursts, some of the poems came out better than others. But overall, I was happy with many of them.

Day nine poem

After reading Mary Lee’s family poems, and Steve’s poems inspired by the digital archives at the New York Public Library, I decided to revisit the Flickr archives of the US Library of Congress. There are treasure troves of available images by the Library of Congress, and many are evocative for storytelling. I tried to vary the subjects of the images so that my poems might take shape in different ways. There are a few gems in this mix, I think.

Jazz in the Air

I then ventured into Blackout Poems, where you remove words to leave words that make up verse. I always feel a little hamstrung with Blackout Poems, struggling with trying to suss out a poem from existing text. But when it works, it is very cool.

Blackout Poetry1

I ended the month with haikus, but my twist was I went back into my recent image files, seeking out pictures that might inspire three lines of poetry. For the most part, I liked how they came out, and worked hard to ensure that the image was partner to the words. Finding that balance with these kinds of poems are critical.

Image Haiku: The Swallows of the Swamp

Beyond my daily poems, I also left scattered poems as comments at people’s blog sites. I don’t even know where they are anymore. But I hope they were well-received. I did do a poem for a late April DS106 Daily Create that I liked. The prompt was to put a poem on a door of a refrigerator and take a picture. I sort of cheated — no real fridge — but the poem was real, and I like how the poem is about the poem being a poem.

TheForgottenPoem

and

forgotten poem on fridge

Peace (it’s poetry),

Kevin

Image Haiku: Dog Sense

This week, I am going back into my photo files, and using images as an inspiration for haiku. I am layering words on images.

Image Haiku: Dog SenseProcess Note: This is a shot of Duke, our dog, when I was out hiking in the woods with four 11 year old boys. He runs ahead, comes back to me, stops, and then runs again. His nose is always in the wind. I am always amazed when I read the science behind dogs’ sense of smell and how intricate it is.

Peace (and sense),
Kevin

Image Haiku: Roots Buried by Time

This week, I am going back into my photo files, and using images as an inspiration for haiku. I am layering words on images.

Image Haiku: Roots Buried by TimeProcess Note: This is from the same baseball park as the other day’s image haiku, but looking from another direction. We marveled at this scene, wondering if this was caused by manmade flooding or not. So many trees, only half in the water. It didn’t seem natural.

Peace (in the lake),
Kevin

Image Haiku: You Keep Beauty Small

This week, I am going back into my photo files, and using images as an inspiration for haiku. I am layering words on images.

Untitled

Process Note: I saw these ground flowers tucked under a bunch of tulips and others, and thought, they deserve a poem and the spotlight, too.

Peace (down low),
Kevin

Image Haiku: Swallows of the Swamp

This week, I am going back into my photo files, and using images as an inspiration for haiku. I am layering words on images.

Image Haiku

Process Note: I was at my son’s baseball game and noticed this swampy area. A bridge over a bend in the pond caught my attention, and this swamp was filled with diving birds. Swallows, I was told, and watching them dance was very entertaining.

Peace (in the swamp),
Kevin

Image Haiku: Dying Tree

This week, I am going back into my photo files, and using images as an inspiration for haiku. I am layering words on images.

Image Haiku: Dying Tree

Process Note: Two pine trees in our side yard are succumbing to a fungus in the Northeast. All around, you see shadowy pines, with grey needles instead of vibrant green growth. An arborist told us the trees will slowly die, as they have been, over time. We still rely on their shade in summer, and they are still alive enough for us to not remove them.

Peace (in wonder),
Kevin