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Poet Laura Shovan Ignites a Creative Summer School Spark in 4th & 5th Grade Writers

The latest installment in our occasional series of blog posts from friends of HoCoPoLitSo. Today, the multi-talented — poet, blogger, teacher, editor, (the list goes on and on) — Laura Shovan shares with us her experience working with elementary school writers this summer. 

It was my first, and only, time calling into a radio show. Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins was on the air with WYPR’s Dan Rodricks. I often use and recommend Collins’ website Poetry 180: A Poem a Day for American High Schools for classroom-friendly poems.

I wanted to know: Was there a Poetry 180 for younger students in the works? Collins said “No” and reasoned that elementary school children get enough poetry in their literary diet already.

Perhaps. But that poetry is often limited to work that’s easily digested. Elementary schoolers love Jack Prelutsky, yet are unfamiliar with more complex poets writing for children: Marilyn Singer, Sharon Creech, and Tony Medina. Their curriculum for poetry composition is rarely richer than limericks, haiku of the 5-7-5 variety, and cinquain. That’s why poetry educators, such as those on the Maryland State Arts Council artist-in-residence roster, are such highly valued classroom visitors. We are poetic master chefs. Give us the ingredients of poetry – form, figurative language, and voice – and we’ll turn out a dishy treat even the most reluctant writers will enjoy.

This month, I visited Lisa Johnson’s creative writing class at the Howard County Public School System’s G/T Summer Institutes. Certainly the fourth and fifth graders in a class called “Creative Writing: Ignite the Creative Spark” must like to write or they wouldn’t have been in the class. Still, many of them were unsure about writing poetry. Distaste for poetry often sets in by fifth grade, as evidenced by one student who wrote me this note: “At first, I thought you were going to be BORING!”

TowerAs this was a group of strong writers, I brought a favorite lesson: portrait poems. To begin the workshop, we looked at a photograph of a man holding a baby. Our discussion focused on the facts of the picture. For example, we noted that “The man is wearing a baseball cap”. Once we exhausted the facts of the photograph, we let our imaginations take over. The class told stories about the man and the baby. Were the two of them related? Had the man rescued the baby from an accident? Was this a family reunion?

Next, we read a poem called “Face Poem” written in response to the photograph in question. [The poem and the related photo can be found at The Poem Farm, the online home of children’s poet Amy Ludwig VanDerwater.] We compared the class’s imaginings to the details of the poem. How did “Face Poem” work as a portrait?

After seeing the example, the students were ready to begin the writing process. Ms. Johnson and I had clipped portraits out of newspapers and magazines ahead of time. The children each chose one image to write about. They sat with their writing notebooks and the photographs and created a T-chart. On one side: the facts of the portrait. On the other: Who is this person? What is she doing? What is he thinking? What happens next?

Imagining someone else’s life through a workshop like this stretches young writers. My students often express a depth of empathy that surprises the adults in the room. The tangible details of a photograph are like a list of ingredients. How the children use those ingredients is what gives the resulting poems substance.

Here are three of the students’ responses.

The Newborn

By Aiai C.

A baby cry echoes through the room. The mother
rushes to calm her. The baby was as pale as snow,
her hair as black as the night sky, her lips
as pale pink as peaches. She would resemble
a snow maiden. She thinks she is the only one there,
but her mother is there gently whispering in her ear,
“Little one, little one, go to sleep.” The necklace
on her mother’s neck gently sweeping on her face.
her mind finally relaxes as she drifted off to dream
through the clouds of sleep.

The Hard Working Teacher

By Katelyn M.

The night was warm and bright
No noises filled the night
Her eyes sparkled like the night sky
Her chalkboard filled with white letters like the moon
Her lamp shines on her like the sun shining on the earth
That’s my teacher that teaches me

The Fisher

By Samuel C.

I stand in the lake
with a red shirt,
waiting for a fish to take
the bait on my hook.

I have a backpack
to carry fish back,
but now I just wait.

My family also waits
patiently as can be,
but they also wait
as quietly as a mime.

As soon as I catch a fish
I will go back to them,
I think to myself,
but now I just wait.

My son also waits.
On the land he stands,
as tense as a cricket
waiting for me to catch one.

The he’ll go back
and bring the fish back
for my family to eat.
Suddenly I feel a tug,
so I pull the fish ashore,
and go back to my family,
to eat that big fish.

I finally got back
to my family
at the camp
in the forest
in the depths of Quebec.

— Laura Shovan

HoCoPoLitSo Recommends Free Readings: Pinsky, LPR, Artists’ Gallery

Robert Pinsky will be reading at 2pm in Frederick, Maryland, on Super Bowl Sunday.

Robert Pinsky will be reading at 2pm in Frederick, Maryland, on Super Bowl Sunday.

It’s happening again, but don’t worry… you’ll be home in time for the Super Bowl. In their annual Super Bowl Sunday event, Frederick Reads, the Weinberg Center for the Arts, and the C. Burr Artz Trust will host a free public reading and book signing by American poet, essayist, literary critic and translator Robert Pinsky.

The 2013 theme is “Food,” and Pinsky is enthusiastically preparing a special feast of his favorite poems related to food and beverage, both his own work and that of other poets.

Is there a better way to get hungry for the game? Details on the reading can be found here.

The event usually contains a question and answer period, we can ask him which team he is rooting for. Now what would you expect a poet’s choice to be?

But first, the Howard County Tourism office will host a free Little Patuxent Review reading Saturday afternoon from 2-4. With their latest Doubt-themed issue hot off the presses and in readers’ hands, editors, members and contributors will read from their works and host an audience talk-back about music and the ways it influences our lives in preparation for the release of the Summer 2013  music-themes issue during the Columbia Festival of the Arts.

The reading will feature Michael Salcman, Susan Thornton Hobby, Anne Bracken, Prudence Barry, Patricia Van Amburg, Emily Rich, Lisa Biggar, Kim Jensen, and a special musical guest. Co-hosts will be Linda Joy Burke and Laura Shovan.

The following Friday, the Artists’ Gallery located in the American City Building in downtown Columbia will launch their popular “Poets and Painters” show with a reading and reception. The reception is from 6-8pm on February 8. The show, featuring the collaborations of poets and painters, will be up from the 1st of February through March 29th. Do drop in.

Now online: Belinda McKeon in Conversation with Colm Tóibín on HoCoPoLitSo’s The Writing Life.

The episode of HoCoPoLitSo’s TV show The Writing Life, featuring Belinda McKeon hosting Colm Tóibín, is available through February for online viewing at http://www.howardcc.edu/Visitors/hcctv/programming/writinglife.html. In town for the 33rd annual Evening of Irish Music & Writing this time last year, the two sat down to have a literary conversation in Howard Community College’s TV studio. Through the half hour, they discuss Tóibín’s books and shed light on his work as a writer.

Tóibín’s list of achievements is long, his talent, vast. He is known and awarded for his novels and short stories and for his journalism and literary criticism, as well. This was his second appearance for HoCoPoLitSo’s Irish Evening.

Belinda McKeon reading the Form and Structure issue of Little Patuxent Review.

Playwright and novelist Belinda McKeon’s debut novel Solace, published last year, has won the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book of the Year (2011) and Ireland’s Sunday Independent recognized her with its Best Newcomer Award.

The annual Irish Evening is a perennial favorite and a highpoint to each HoCoPoLitSo season. This year a reading by memoirist and novelist Hugo Hamilton will be followed by the Irish music of the Narrowbacks accompanied by traditional Irish step dancers on Friday, February 17th at Smith Theater on the campus of Howard Community College in Columbia. Click here for more information and to purchase tickets online.

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Watch the episode: http://www.howardcc.edu/Visitors/hcctv/programming/writinglife.html

Note: this episode aired on the Howard Community Website for the month of February 2012. Episodes are featured on that site for a month at time, each new month brings a new episode or encore performance. To visit a growing and permanent archive of The Writing Life episodes online, visit the HoCoPoLitSo YouTube Channel.

Little Patuxent Review Launches Social Justice Issue, Saturday at 2pm

This Saturday, Little Patuxent Review, a twice yearly literary and arts publication out of Howard County, hosts a free contributor reading at Oliver’s Carriage House to celebrate the launch of its latest, Social Justice issue. The issue features Columbia resident and HoCoPoLitSo board member Truth Thomas as its guest editor.

Scheduled to read at the event are Melinda Abbott, JoAnn Balingit, Dylan Bargteil, Ann Bracken, Susan Gabrielle, Stephanie Gibson, Jen Grow, Clarinda Harriss, Kathleen Hellen, Alan King, Michael Salcman, Lauren Schmidt, Jill-Ann Stolley, James Toupin, Susan Turner-Conlon and Patricia VanAmburg.

Copies of the issue, which also features an interview with Martin Espada by another HoCoPoLitSo board member, Susan Thornton Hobby, will be available for sale ($10).

Details:

When: Saturday, January 28th, 2pm
Where: Oliver’s Carriage House, 5410 Leaf Treader Way, Columbia, MD 21044

Unable to make the event, track down a copy of the issue online.

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