Friday, April 19, 2024

Communal Poetry Project

Two years ago, I was part of a seminary class that studied Jericho Brown's duplexes.  As part of my final project, I wrote some duplexes of my own.  I went through my poetry notebooks looking for lines that didn't make it into a poem, and I created a Word document of them.  I ended up with lots of abandoned lines in a big document, and I return to the document periodically when I need inspiration.

This week, I used those lines in a different way.  I needed something different to do with my English 100 class.  I decided to celebrate National Poetry Month with a communal poetry project.  Along the way, I talked about how doing different kinds of writing can make us feel refreshed when we return to academic writing, so it wasn't only a diversion.

I took the document that I created a few weeks ago as part of my internship.  I was trying to create a Mad Libs kind of thing to prompt people to tell their spiritual stories, and I modified it for the poetry project.  I knew that these students needed something to get their creative ideas flowing--or to have something to use in case they didn't get any creative ideas at all.  I created a fill in the blank document that would prompt them to make a list of nouns, verbs, emotions, and then a different fill in the blank document with words missing from lines from famous poems ("Hope is a thing with ______"), hymns ("Oh for a thousand tongues to _____") and pop songs ("You turn me round and round like a _______").

Before class, I cut up the lines from my abandoned lines document and put them in a bowl.  We had a time of taking those lines and adding lines.  If nothing came to them, they could use one of the items from the Mad Libs documents.  At one point, I collected slips with my line and the student line and gave them to a different student to write a new line.  Students ended up with 9-15 slips of paper on their individual tables.

Before class, I had rearranged the tables (I love a classroom with tables that are mobile!).  On the back tables, I taped blank paper, which created 9 blank documents for my analogue cut and paste.  I brought tape with me to class, and I gave students a piece of tape and had them go tape a slip to the longer sheet of paper.  It wasn't as chaotic as I thought it might be. 

We ended up with pieces of paper that were fairly full, but still had space.  I mention this because I wasn't sure how many blank sheets to create.  And as students walked back and forth, they had plenty of room.  Ten students participated, so I'm not sure how this would work with larger groups.  I'd probably have a few more blank documents.

I then read each of the communal poems out loud.  It was interesting to see how the lines spoke to each other.  I talked about the kinds of academic papers we might write if we were asked to write about poems like these.  I also asked about their process.  Only three students read the slips that were already there as they thought about where to tape their own slips.  The process for most students was fairly random, and I was amazed at how the poems held together.

At the end of class, I had students write about the process to tell me what they thought.  Three students said that their favorite part was when I read each poem; that made me happy, because I felt a little unsure of that part.  And the best part--one student talked at great length about how amazing the experience was, the whole process.  Hurrah!

Earlier this week, I wrote a blog post confessing that I was failing National Poetry Month.  Yesterday, I feel like I succeeded.


Kathleen said...

What a great idea!

Kristin Berkey-Abbott said...

Thanks--it worked out better than I thought it would.