Art School Teacher: Five Ways to Write Poems, explained

I plan to talk about Austin Kleon and how he came to make his black out poems.

But right before leaving the house I think, why not have them write a poem first?  And why not bring the Hardy Boys book? And why not bring a book for the girl who has been absent but will be back today?

So I do.

But when the bell rings and I say to get out a pen and write a poem, the girl who has been absent walks in with a clear plastic box of what I think are brownies, but turn out to be dirt and her pet tarantula.

The girl who hates tarantulas gasps.  So I say, alright, let's breathe first.

So we do, sitting tall with eyes closed.  Inhaling through the nose for 4 counts, holding the breath for 7, exhaling through the mouth for 8, as recommended by Dr. Andrew Weil.

And then we notice all the stuff going on inside us today.  And imagine all that stuff swirling around and coming out in the form of a poem.

After we finish writing our poems, I tell them about Austin Kleon and how he writes poems like a sculptor, by blacking out all the words he doesn't want.  We practice making our own black out poems from an old New York Times.

I remember David Bowie and his cut up method of writing lyrics.  So we talk about that too and decide to try, cutting 10 words or phrases from pages out of the Hardy Boys book and arranging them into poems.

We are all very absorbed in our poem making.  We listen to Freddie Mercury and David Bowie's acapella version of "Under Pressure."

Then we discuss: What did you notice about each way of making poems?  How are they different? How are they the same?

Some thought the cut up method was hard, others thought the blackout was harder.  Another countered that the blackout was the easiest and trying to write a poem about the thing swirling inside was hardest.

So I give them a choice:  To take their 10 cut ups and put them all together to make a group poem, or to write a poem while listening to a piece of music.  The girl who has been absent recoils at the idea of group work.

So I put on Brian Eno's Music for Airports and tell them this was the music I fell in love to when I was sixteen.

Everyone is focused, working on their poems.

The bell rings and the girl who is terrified of tarantulas snaps out of her poetry making and remembers to be terrified of the spider.

Assignment:  Do something with your poems and document it to share next class.

I remember to give the girl with the pet tarantula the book I brought for her.

She stays after the bell to tell me thanks for thinking of her.  Then she tells a painful thing she's suffering and I wish I had the perfect thing to say but do not.  I am ashamed that I move first, that after there is a pause, instead of staying and listening, I move away from her and towards my backpack.  So we say goodbye.

But I know there was more she wanted to say.  I thought about it all week, several times catching myself wanting to move away right when someone needed me.  I practiced staying.

I was relieved to see the student who had told me a painful thing was back the next week.

After listening and drawing and coloring to Astral Weeks, she again stayed after the bell, and this time I turned towards her and listened and didn't turn away.  And she cried some about the painful thing. And I got to say a couple of cliche things I'd thought of during the week.  Stay strong.  You have a lot to offer the world.  See it as a learning experience.  Things get better.  That type of thing.

I completely forgot about asking if any did the assignment of doing something with their poems from last class.  Later, I notice, tacked to the wall in the back of the room, the beautiful sad poems of the girl with the pet tarantula.

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