Fiction writers can spend hours building characters -- sometimes creating full dossiers before we ever type "Chapter One." (Here's a worksheet, if you're interested.)
So how do poets capture a person in just a few lines? What kind of magic are they working and how can we get some -- or give some to our students?
I'm continuing to look at persona and portrait poems this week. Last week's persona poem, in the voice of conjoined twins, was "Brother."
Here is Hal Sirowitz's wonderful poem, "Crumbs." It's from his hysterically funny collection, Mother Said. This is a great model poem for the classroom and a good exercise for fiction writers.
Don't eat any food in your room,
Mother said. You'll get more bugs.
They depend on people like you.
Otherwise, they would starve.
But who do you want to make happy,
your mother or a bunch of ants?
Read the rest of the poem in an awesome comic-book version here.
Lesson/Writing Exercise in Character Building
Audience: Advanced 5th Grade Writers through Adult
Read "Crumbs" again. Think about a person (or character) who says the same thing, over and over again. It might be a catch-phrase, favorite saying, or pattern of speech when the person's on a tirade.
Your Prompt: Quote someone you know – your poem will tell the reader something about the speaker and how you felt about what he/she said. Trust that the words your speaker is using will suggest the nature of his/her character.
Here are a few lines of a 6th grader's response.
My mother once told me proper punctuation Is key. "Or I’ll never have peace. Why am I so cursed? To have children That can’t spell is worse than having fish
That cannot swim."
Another great example of using someone's words to paint their portrait, Robert Frost's "Blueberries."
Look for another persona/portrait poem on Poetry Friday.