Friday, December 17, 2010

Paper Poetry Prompt

Yesterday's comments to my post, especially Sandy's about recycling, took me back a few years, when I taught with lots of handouts. Because students were absent, and because I was always afraid of not having enough handouts, I always had too many handouts. I always dumped them into the recycling bins and hoped that the paper actually made it to a recycling center somewhere.

I often taught night classes that ended at 9, and the custodian always moved right in to clean my classroom so he could declare that part of the hallway done. One night, I had to come back to the classroom, and I discovered him reading my poetry handouts. Or at least he was peering at them intently.

He and I always only exchanged a few words each night because we spoke different languages. I wondered what he thought of those poems that he pulled out of the recycling trash bin. I wondered if he was trying to teach himself English, and he kept my handouts as free material to help him learn to read.

I wondered how a person's language skills might be different if he or she used poetry as model English.

Yesterday, as I drove to work, I thought about how much of my work paper recycling these days are earlier, abandoned versions of assessment reports, faculty development plans, and schedules. A person who learned to read from that recycling pile might have a very different type of English than the person who learned to read from poetry handouts.

I thought of all the other writing done on campus: tests from various disciplines, the articles from economics journals that our Macroeconomics instructor always leaves in my box, other handouts, heartfelt notes, resumes (hopefully with cover letters), flyers that advertise a wide variety of things.

Ah, the heartfelt note: there's an art form in itself. One night, a friend and I went to a near-campus venue, Greenstreets, where one of our favorite bands was playing. When we came out, there was a heartfelt note taped to her car. It was clearly not addressed to us, but to someone who drove the same car. It was some tortured soul who talked about waiting and waiting and you're not coming and then I track you here and I hope you're happy; I made a wonderful meal and you blew it and I was willing to say yes tonight. On and on the note went, over several 4x6 sheets of paper, taped to the driver side door. It was so heartfelt and so hysterical that we wondered if we should try to find the writer, to reassure her that perhaps she hadn't been abandoned cruelly. But as we looked at the parking lot and the surrounding stores, we realized that would be futile. I've always thought a short story or a plot turning point lurked in that scene. Are there poetry possibilities?

So, within this post you have all sorts of potential prompts. Or maybe you just want to sit still for a few minutes and savor the idea that a week from today--just one week--it will be Christmas Eve. Maybe you're snowed in. Maybe you're nervous about the weather the week-end will bring.

Return to poetry! Read your favorite poets, the ones who aren't in anthologies yet. Which of their poems are your favorites? If the limited-English speaking custodian read those poems on castaway handouts, what would happen?


Kathleen said...

Yes!! Thanks for the prompt ideas and recycling reminders. I love seeing the custodian reading the poetry. We write on the back of everything around here, or cut it up for various other uses.

Kristin, I will be sending some poetry students to your blog for all kinds of inspiration.

John Guzlowski said...