This project will be made successful by poems sent from children and youth in our schools, from the myriad of writing groups that thrive across the state, and from working poets. I provide two lesson plans to help teachers, and others interested, guide students into writing about the place they live in. One suggestion is based on thinking about landscape, the physical terrain that makes a place distinctive, while the other focuses on the people, the individuals who make a particular place unique and meaningful to those who inhabit it.
Lesson 1: Window Poems
Walk over to the nearest window, if you are at home this could be your living room or bedroom window; at school it could be your classroom window. If not in front of a window at this moment then imagine looking through a window into a familiar space. You many imagine looking out the school bus window or a car window from which you view a familiar landscape such as going to the supermarket or driving to and from work.
Notice what unfolds in front of you: What colors do you notice? What shapes stand out? What sounds do you hear? Is rain falling making a loud sound on the roof of the bus/car? Are there big rigs churning along on the road? Are there animals or people in the landscape? If so what type of animals do you see? If there are people, do you know their names? Tell how they look, what they are wearing. Make a list of these noticings. Be explicit – if you see trees, what type of trees? If you see a red building tell if it is a brick building or painted barn read, is it an old red building with peeling paint or does it have graffiti on its sides? Write out as much sensory detail as you can. Poems come alive with rich detail.
Now jot down what feelings rise up inside you as you look out this window at your familiar world. Do you feel peaceful? Do you feel longing? Are you happy or frustrated by what you witness?
Tell about the spirit of your surroundings.
Does a memory suddenly surface as you are jotting these familiar details? Jot the story down. If there are people speaking to each other in your memory, include their dialog. Again you want to capture as much sensory detail as possible.
Here is an example of a poem written looking out a window.
There it Grows
Sweetly does the rain
Sing against my window,
As it stirs the lavender
That caresses my nose,
Growing beneath my window as
My mother planted it there to do.
The writer captures exactly what she sees and smells as she stands at her bedroom window and in the process tells us about a caring, thoughtful mother intent on making her daughter’s world pleasant and safe.
Now that you have collected several points of information about your surroundings you are ready to write your poem. One way to get started is to invite the reader to come along with you and see the world the way you see it. You can begin your poem by writing, “Come along with me …” or “I invite you to…”
Like this poem I wrote this morning looking out my living room window:
I invite you to Heron lane
where on this cherry blossom morning
my neighbor Lucy
bends down to greet
the oval heads of white crocuses
as if they had chicks inside
pecking eggshell firmaments
cracking into spring
Alternatively, you can begin by telling about the memory that came to you as you stood looking at the world though your chosen window.
Come along to Gig Harbor
where once on our way to school ...
Or, you can begin this way:
If you are ever in (Gig Harbor /Discovery school/Farmer’s Lane)
and you walk down the gravel path/visit main street, etc.
Lesson 2: People
The places we inhabit are defined by their natural and man-made characteristics such as buildings and streets, but also by the people who live there. People give color and dimension to a place. Sometimes a person can make us feel we belong in a place to such degree we could not imagine ourselves anywhere else. This is a chance to write a poem about someone important in the place you live.
Close your eyes.
Think of your neighborhood, church, school or place of work. Now envision the people who make it meaningful, who do you worship with? Work with or go to school with? Who stands out for you in those settings?
Hone a bit more and pick just one of those settings. Think of a person who stands out to you in the place you chose. Recall what they look like, or looked liked in case they moved away or passed. What are some Things they’ve said to you or words/phrases they repeat often? What do you enjoy doing with them? What is an anecdote about them that comes to mind?
Open your eyes.
On a blank piece of paper brainstorm as many details about this person as you can recall – Use the space of the page as you wish, maybe you draw a picture of them? If you could choose one thing about this person what would that be? If you could describe them with one word what is that word?
Take a look at the poem in this page, it was written by an older person remembering his youth. It is interesting that what he remembered about growing up in White Center, a neighborhood south of Seattle, was a man who captured his imagination and that of others in White Center.
Evening Collapsing Into Night
I remember the folded newspaper twisting and landing
with a thud on his porch.
I remember my mother saying she saw him leaving
the Burien Bakery.
I remember Eugene O', the man himself, tall, white haired,
I remember the feeling of being in the presence
I remember he moved away, but many people talked
about him nevertheless.
I remember my paper route along the Indian Trail
being a long day’s journey.
Jim Munro, White Center