Last week I got to play in a sandbox. This wasn’t just ANY sandbox, but the New Hampshire Literacy Institutes sandbox. My host for this fabulous week-long playdate at UNH was literacy specialist/author Shawna Coppola. (If you haven’t read her new Stenhouse book RENEW! Become a Better — and More Authentic — Writing Teacher, please do!) For an entire week, Shawna nudged and encouraged me and my fellow playmates to expand our understanding and perceptions about composing in new directions. This included a new way of composing for me — non-alphabetically — and playing around and making with new tools, strategies, and modes of composing that were a combination of high-tech, low-tech, and no-tech — emojis, sketchnoting, cartooning, and blackout poetry, to name a few.
A new toy I learned to play with in the sandbox was blackout poetry. As we all know, blank pages, to a writer, can be exciting and scary. Blackout poetry requires the writer/composer to use text that already exists and black out, or redact, words until just a few remain in the form of a poem. Recently I’ve had fun creating found poetry, but that allows the poet to manipulate the original author’s words in any way that they see fit. Blackout poetry requires words to stay in the order they are found in the text. A HUGE CHALLENGE, but a good one! To learn more about the origins of blackout poetry, read here. To read about Austin Kleon’s newspaper blackout poems, try here.
So diving into the sandbox head first, Shawna had us play for a bit with a section of Ray Bradbury’s short story All Summer In a Day. This was hard for me. I’m not going to lie. While blackout poetry often creates a work unrelated to the original text, I struggled to “see” anything other than the themes of sun and rain. Rather than fight or resist the obvious themes, I went with them just to get my feet wet.
When I returned home with a final project still to be generated, I played around a bit more. This time my text was the Institute’s course description. Again, nothing unrelated to the text spoke to me, so I went with a rallying cry to young writers.
Later in the week, I played again, this time pushing myself just a bit more. My text was an obituary from The Economist. (You may read the full text here.) Each week the editors print one obituary. They are always elegantly written, one-page mini biographies of the most fascinating and influential people who have left us. Sometimes they are familiar names and faces, but often they are less-recognizable. All have one thing in common — they’ve left their mark on the world in one way or another. Maryam Mirzakhani, whom I had recently read about in Rachel Ignotofsky’s brilliant Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World, lost her battle with cancer in July at the age of 40. Such a brilliant mind with so much ahead of her. Reading her obituary, I was struck by how curious she must have been as a child, and how lucky we are she pursued her wonders, as I encourage my kindergarteners to do each and every day. While I hope my poem captures the sense of wonder that Maryam had, I also believe it conveys a sense of hope, optimism, and excitement for the future rather than sadness at opportunities lost or cut short.
Birthday girl Margaret, at Reflections on the Teche, is hosting a lovely Poetry Friday birthday party this week. Why not join us there for a poetic slice of cake (or two) and spread some poetry love!