Today at Thomas Jefferson High School, we initiated discussion about poetry and how many different forms it can take. To show the youth how--even when a poem seems like it might be really simple or straightforward--the best authors put significant time, energy, and introspection into their work. I challenged our teens to write three poems using different structure-heavy methods. The goal of the first prompt was to construct a cohesive poem through blending commentary on different relationships we maintain. To begin, we wrote down and numbered fifteen different relationships we have with other people, places, or things. After they had finished we put the numbers 1-15 in a random number generator. The youth were then given gradually decreasing amounts of time to write the lines of their poems. When the timer went off, the students were allowed to finish the line they were writing, but had to start the next set of lines immediately following the previous set. The second prompt involved the finished first prompt: We passed the finished pieces around the room four times to pull lines from one another’s pieces and reconstruct them into a patchwork cento. The first time we passed, we borrowed four lines from one person’s poem; the second time, we borrowed three lines from another individual’s poem, etc.
The third prompt, my personal favorite, a “blind” exquisite corpse of sorts. Exquisite corpse writing [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exquisite_corpse] is a collaborative piece that is generally composed by taking turns adding lines. The twist in our method is that each writer was only allowed to see the line before their addition, thereby creating a poem very similar to a poetry version of the game, telephone. The poem turned out really, really interestingly, because it moved from being a silly, lighthearted group of lines into a slew of intensely focused words of wisdom about life and finding one’s place in the world. The exercise really showcased our youngster’s abilities to consider very mature topics while maintaining their own voices (including the silliness that gives them their unique senses of humor). Next week, we’ll probably be diving into more traditional poetic forms, but I hope we get a chance to do something like our blind exquisite corpse again. Not only did doing so create a beautiful piece of writing, but it also offered all of us, students and mentors alike, the chance to get to know each other beyond what everyday talk can offer.
Here’s the finished text from our blind exquisite corpse (trademark symbol facetiously added by Keana on her turn to write)
Beautiful breeze of a beach, tasty chirps of seagulls
Beautiful batch of bubble gum, tasty chips of Doritos ®
Your delicious Life is on a ride
To a destination within reach, but out of touch,
And there is no “you” in these bone-broke soles.
But you can be found in the eyes of man.
What’s the danger of only being seen by man?
Only heaven is after hell on land.
So go on, go home--
But don’t stray too far,
Because at the edges of life, we are alone.
But an edge does not signify the end,
And so we continue moving forward, onwards--grasping, reaching for our destinations,
Hoping that what we are reaching for is what we needed in the first place.