Wishes, Lies, Dreams

I’m going to start off by telling you one of my secrets.

Frog Hollow writes tons of poetry. That’s no secret, and it’s no secret that with the right infectious enthusiasm, teaching poetry to children can help them get lit up about writing, about language, and about the centuries-long conversation about the human experience that we call literature. Also, poetry is short. Children can write a poem, revise it for spelling and punctuation, and illustrate it all in a sitting, whereas most “stories” children want to write are really novels, or whole series of novels, or complete worlds.  Getting all that from mind to paper at all, let alone in a day, is a challenge and so the satisfaction of completing something often gets lost when kids write longer forms. Writing poetry shows children they are writers, and allows us as a class to play with many different things quickly.

 But where do you get that all-important infectious enthusiasm? At Frog Hollow, once we get into the rhythm of writing poems, the children bring it themselves. It also helps that I get pretty excited myself. However (and here’s where the secret comes in), I also rely hugely on the work of poet and teacher Kenneth Koch in his books Wishes, Lies, and Dreams and Rose, Where Did You Get That Red? In these books, he shares his work teaching poetry in New York City public elementary schools in the 1960’s. In Wishes, Lies, and Dreams, he starts with a poetry idea — writing about wishes or lies or dreams or noises — and includes some of the poems his students wrote drawing from that idea. In Rose, Where Did You Get That Red? he starts from classic poems, and shares the work his students wrote inspired by them.

There are many great prompts and poems in these books. Including the poems written by students helps my students see that they can write poems. But beyond that, there is so much enthusiasm that reading them makes me wish it was Wednesday, so I could see what kind of magic would come out of my students’ pencils.

So there it is — the big secret: none of us are in this alone.

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