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My Poetry/Prose Workshops

"Voice" Poem ill. by Jeanne de Sainte Marie
Group Poem published in Metaphors&Similes You Can Eat, ill. by Jeanne de Sainte Marie

It is a great pleasure to share my love for words and stories. With the youngest children, those not able to write yet, I take dictation. Even with older students, I often warm up with a group writing activity. Many of the poems published in my book for teachers were written this way.

I fell in love with the sounds of words before I could read them. My mother, an elementary school teacher and reading specialist, read and sang to me. I think the first book of poems she gave me was A Child’s Garden of Verses. When I read, from that same book, Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem about going up in a swing, “up in a swing so high,” to my three-year-old grandson, I rocked him back and forth in my arms. “Grandma,” he said, eyes shining, when the poem stopped. “I’ve never been in a poem before.”

I have been in poems all my life, as a reader and a writer. Poetry is a friend who never fails us, immortal and always available. I can still recite poems I memorized as a child. As a children’s author/poet who visits schools, I often use food to inspire the youngest students. Creating a group poem (about an orange) with a kindergarten class, I asked the children to complete the phrase, “Round as…” A little girl said, “Round as love.” “How is love round?” I asked. “Like this,” she said, making a circle with her arms, “when you hug someone.”

I’d like to see poetry declared an essential food group. To me it is a vital form of nutrition.

The following list is just a sample of my workshops. I enjoy creating new programs to suit special needs and am comfortable with all age groups, from pre-K to adults.

1. “Voice” Poems: In these, a voice is given to anything in the universe that cannot
speak for itself, in other words, not a person. It might be abstract: an idea or emotion. Words are written on the board (sensory, etc.) that inspire vivid personification.

2. “Voice” Stories: Monologues in which a non-human character tells about its life. Since this is a story, not a poem, the main character should have a dream, wish, or problem to be resolved by the end of the story. Characters should experience conflict (inner and/or outer) and change over time. Appropriate model stories are shared.

3. Monologues on the Odd Profession: Inspiration comes from Heinrich Boll’s “The Laugher,” about a professional laugher, as well as model student stories. Workshop participants make up a character with an odd profession and write a monologue in that voice.

4. “I Am” Poems: These are similar to “voice” poems, but with a more specific
structure. Sharing of age appropriate student poems, as in all these lessons. Inspiring words from Orel’s “word box” are available to any student who requests them.

5. “Knows” Poems: Inspired by model poems, students try to relate what
something non-human knows. Verbs written on the board are the key to this lesson.

6. Portrait Poems: Students write portraits, in words, of people or animals, known
or invented. Photos or paintings may jump-start invention.

7. Poetry from Paintings: Postcards from Orel’s collection, large poster-sized reproductions and/or projected images inspire these poems, as well as student model poems. Students enjoy seeing their varied poetic responses to one painting.

8. Poetry Chinese Style: One lesson involves writing an original poem in shi style
(in English or French) and another involves interpreting the words in a found poetry “translation” game. Very sophisticated, but either lesson works with most grades.

9. Ways of Sensing: Poems inspired by Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens, and other poets, including children, in which one subject is viewed in a variety of ways, using all senses. Sometimes fruit is used in this sensory writing workshop.

10. Writing and Revising Short Stories: Covers the major ingredients needed for
effective storytelling, especially the importance of showing and not just telling. Model stories are projected to illustrate talking points.