On Saturday, I taught a poetry workshop to young writers. The workshop was advertised for ages 8-12 and I had about ten kids who were between ages 7-9. I had intended to work with the writers on an I Come From Poem and show them some Button Poet performances in order to get them ready for the Poetry Coffeehouse which takes place on Saturday, April 23 from 2:00-4:00 at the Redmond Library.
However, as soon as the kids were gathered around the table, I knew I was going to need a whole different plan. It wasn’t that I didn’t think they could do an I Come From Poem and have great material, it was just the energy in the room seemed a lot more playful and fun then what I had planned. I traditionally do workshops where the focus is on getting kids who have unheard stories, such as those in juvenile detention, to tell their stories. It’s not these workshops aren’t playful and fun, and I do incorporate some play into them, but they tend to be a bit more serious. It’s not easy for a lot of the kids who have not been heard to trust that they can tell their stories and someone will listen to them.
But this group on Saturday, seemed bubbling with energy and life and something more joyful was needed.
So while the librarian was introducing me and raving about my workshops my mind searched for what we could do that would reach the audience in front of me and still accomplish the goal of working on performance poetry.
As the introductions wrapped up, suddenly it came to me Shel Silverstein. I quickly turned to Jenn and asked if she had some Shel Silverstein books in the library. Thankfully, she came back with the one I was hoping for, Where the Sidewalk Ends.
I turned to my favorite poem, “Sick” and began reading. The group was hooked. Many of them were not as familiar as I thought they might be with Shel Silverstein’s poems and enjoyed hearing the poem.
After I read, “Sick,” I asked the kids to write an excuse poem. I’ve done this exercise before in workshops with young writers and it’s always a big hit. We make up excuses for why we can’t do a chore we are supposed to do.
As the kids wrote, I thumbed through the book of poems and picked out two others we could do “copy change’ with. Copy change is a method of taking a published poem and mirroring the tone or theme in your own poem. I often allow the kids to use one line as a jump off place to get their own poems going.
I found two other poems, “Someone Swallowed the Baby” and “Afraid.” I used “Someone Swallowed the Baby” to ask the kids to write a poem about a time they did something and didn’t want to admit it. We talked about the picture book, “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” which is told through the point of view of the wolf who believes he was framed. I often use this with older teens and kids in detention with a lot of success.
Then, our last poem was “Afraid” which is a simple poem where the first line uses the name of the poet and then the poet tells what they are afraid of. The last line ends with a please not to do something which will increase their fear.
The last ten minutes we practiced standing tall like trees, projecting our voices and reading slowly in order to prepare for the Coffeehouse Poetry.
It was a fun workshop and reminded me the skill in being a teaching artist relies on responding in the moment to who the audience is and not insisting that my predetermined plan will be the one we follow!