In the essay “On Becoming a Poet,” Mark Strands says, “A poem may be the residue of an inner urgency, one through which the self wishes to register itself, write itself into being, and finally, to charm another self, the reader, into belief.”
Today in my Literary Arts 1.2 class, my learning target was to register ourselves, to write ourselves into being, and, of course, to use the kind of language and details that would charm a reader into belief.
First, I led the class in a poetry transcription of Charles Simic’s fabulous poem “Mirrors at 4 a.m.” and afterward, we discussed images: “rooms webbed in shadows,” “the empty bed,” “the blank wall,” and of course, the surreptitious (authentic vocab moment) wiping of the “hanky” over the brow. We talked about mortality, existence, time and eternity, but my objective was not analysis. The poem was just a spring board for self examination and self rendering.
I passed out small mirrors. I’ve used these hand-held numbers before to assist students in writing about their hands, but this was the first time we have ventured to the face. After everyone had a mirror, there was much giggling and groaning and bang fluffing and chin jutting. Then we got down to business.
Employing top to bottom description, we wrote for five minutes on each element of the face, starting with the 1) hair, 2) forehead, 3) eyes, 4) nose, 5) mouth, 6) chin and jaw, and finally, 7) the whole face. The whole activity took about 40 minutes, and it produced about two pages of description of some element of the face. I urged them to reject the easy description, the cliched, the hackneyed, and take up residence in the unique pores, moles, freckles, and follicles of their face.
Using this fodder as a zero draft, students then created a poem (any length, any form) that addressed, defined, described, or gave voice to one of the abstract words on the board: self, existence, mortality, personality, identity, purpose, destiny, character.
Or they could write anything they want. That’s always an option. Here are a few of the results:
Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.