I often have the children do a 10 minute free write on Fridays. Sometimes I sit and write with them. It is good for me to realize how hard the writing tasks I give them can be.
This past Friday, I asked them to write a poem in the style of William Carlos Williams’ The Red Wheelbarrow, which we had studied all week. I told them to focus on simplicity, brevity and concrete images.
When the time beeped, we took turns reading our poems aloud. To my surprise, three of the kids used the form of their poem to create their image, like Williams did. I never thought to challenge them in that way.
Below is 15 yo Sidney’s poem, which I am sure he wrote to please his flamingo-loving sister . . . . .
Lincoln focused on Christmas. In case, you have trouble reading his scrawl, it reads
“So many depend upon a fat red coated whiskered man in a jingling sleigh”
Rachel, like me, focused on simplicity . . . . . .
Nine-year-old Prairie performed the most challenging feat of all . . .
Her poem takes the shape of Jesus in the manger. In case you missed it, the words “love, hope, peace” at the top are the streams of light or the halo that is typically glowing over baby Jesus’ head in paintings.
Yep. It is true. Even Mama needs to revise her writing.
I just don’t have the luxury to do it often. But I squeezed in some revisions between trips to the turkey and dessert table. The long drive to our Thanksgiving get-together was helpful too.
So here it is —- the reality of revision in the adult world, outside of school.
And with a bit of alliteration thrown in — “reality of revision.” Unimpressed, huh?
That phrase popped into my mind, so I wrote it down, squashing that inner critic who whispers “Is that the best you can do, dearie?” I encourage you to do the same thing during a free write or the writing a rough draft. Write boldly. Don’t worry if it is pretty. Just splash your color onto the page.
My blogging activities usually show that free writing approach —– a quick jotting down of thoughts. Time to revise is rare. If I do revise, it is done after you have gone to bed, so you don’t see the process.
This time, I took photos of my revisions so you can see that I do practice what I preach. When time permits. In the adult world, time is “wibbly, wobbly, timey, wimey stuff.”
Below is the poem “A Walk to the Mailbox” that I posted several days ago. After I posted it, I printed out a hard copy, keeping it nearby, making small revisions as ideas came to mind. Mostly, I focused on capturing how I felt and what I saw with stronger images and details.
Then I went to the computer, made my revisions and printed a revised copy. I kept this copy nearby, even taking it with me on the long drive to visit family. I made a few more revisions and even decided to change up the order of the stanzas because it made more sense in the timing of events.
Taking the above draft back to my computer, I made the changes, and now I offer the final draft of my poem below.
It will not enter the canon of great American poetry. I am not even sure it is a “good” poem or whose standards would determine it good or mediocre.
What does matter — it is a poem about us, a glimpse of our lives. We could have blinked and missed it. But the attempt to write this moment inscripts it right onto our hearts, where we can retrieve it when we need to cling to something good. And there will be days when we must cling to something good.
So go read your Mama’s poem. Extra credit** goes to the first kid who can memorize and recite it.
**extra credit to be given in the form of chocolate
A Walk to the Mailbox
I had forgotten
how to breathe
until I walked away
from the computer, research and choices tensing my shoulders
and entered a different space —-
the space between you and me.
I had forgotten
how it felt to walk
my chest unfurling, hair on my skin reaching toward the November sun.
I had forgotten
until it reached into my ears,
delved into my heart —
the laughter of teenage brothers racing backward
down the long driveway slope,
their sisters trying too,
trying to go fast, trying not to fall
on the sharp rocks.
We used to make this walk together
when all of you were little, clinging to my hands and skirt,
a mother hen with her little chicks huddled close.
I had forgotten.
But I remembered when I saw how far ahead of me you run now.
I try to incorporate free writes into family school on Fridays and other occasional days when time permits.
Some of my kids struggled to squeeze words from brain to pencil on a writing assignment even when they could talk about the topic endlessly and expressed good insight verbally. But when asked to write about it, that connection from brain to pencil shrunk and few words leaked out.
I began free writes with the kids to help them overcome this tendency to clam up.
The only rules for free writes are:
1) Write for 10 minutes. I set a timer.
2) If you think it, write it down. Don’t stop to think and ponder the right word or phrase, just throw the words on paper like Jackson Pollock threw paint on canvas.
This past week, I ask the children to do a free write poem in the style of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem, “Afternoon On a Hill.” We had been studying this poem for a week, reading it and noticing patterns and technique.
Below is 10 yo Rachel’s poem.