I’ve always loved writing. My earliest memory of feeling like a writer was in Mrs. Jones’ sixth grade class at Piedmont Middle School in San Jose. I distinctly remember how Mrs. Jones invited each of us in class to write about a memorable experience we had. I chose to write about a boogie boarding experience gone wrong. I don’t remember everything about that exact piece, but I do remember finally feeling like a writer. Ever since this writing assignment in sixth grade, I have loved writing. I constantly find myself writing down my thoughts, lists, informational pieces, narrative tidbits here and there, and even responses to things I read. However, I have never ever sat down to write poetry. In fact, poetry made me really uncomfortable. Honestly, I can’t pinpoint why. The fact is, I never considered myself one who could actually write poetry. It was intimidating.
Yet, as a writer I know that my best writing often comes when I push myself out of my comfort zone. Come to think of it, the best of many things in life come when we push ourselves out of our comfort zones. So, on the first day of this month, National Poetry Month, I decided it was time to become comfortable with discomfort. I decided it was time to start writing poetry.
During the first few days of April, I found myself on spring break, so I had a little bit of time to warm up to poetry before writing in this form with my students. After seven days of writing it on my own- stressing about the right words, thinking my poems will never be up to snuff, I decided to just stop worrying about it and allow myself to be vulnerable.
So, when it came time to write poetry in class, I sat in front of my students, only the classroom document camera between us, and I started chatting with them about free verse poetry. When it comes to writing, I am not a rule follower. As a student, my assigned five paragraph essays were always four or six, and I always refused to use the teacher mandated planning pages because I wanted to make my own plans (I suspect this does not surprise anyone). Naturally, I gravitated toward reading and writing free verse poetry.
So, when it came time to finally write a poem in front of my students, I told them that after reading and discussing our ideas around Jacqueline Woodson’s poem Reading from Brown Girl Dreaming, which was projected on our board, I suspected that poets often write poems about strong feelings or emotions that became overwhelming or all encompassing. I suspect that they do not worry about rules and fitting into prescribed boxes. It sounded something like this…
“Based on Jacqueline Woodson’s poem Reading, I’m guessing one way poets might think of ideas is by identifying really strong feelings or emotions they’re having. Then, I suspect they just start writing from their hearts and minds without worry.”
My students were nodding while looking up and me and Jacqueline Woodson’s poem projected on the board. I continued…
“So, I’m going to try that right now… Last night I went to a concert. I saw Weezer and the Pixies. It was just amazing!”
(As an aside, a few knew Weezer’s music, but I was alone in my love for the Pixies among my 10 and 11 year-old poets)
“When the band came on, the lights dimmed, the crowd jumped to their feet, and the beat of the drum and the strum of the guitars started to just overtake me. I felt pure joy!”
Then, I turned on the document camera and started writing in view of all my students. I just wrote what I felt while thinking of the previous night.
Once my poem was written, I continued chatting with my students…
“So, did you notice how I just thought of a really strong feeling I had? Did you notice how I just wrote from my heart without really worrying? It’s now your turn…”
Before I could even get my last words out, I noticed many of my fifth graders had already started writing their poems- from their hearts.
What they envisioned, felt, and created that day just blew my mind! I am so excited to see where the rest of the month, and actually the rest of this school year takes us. Sometimes, our most powerful lessons come when we don’t make exact plans and we just model vulnerability as writers and poets (yes- I’m a poet!) for our students.
Here are some of the poems my students wrote that day. All poems are shared with permission.
Thank you for reading and welcoming my vulnerability.