When I'm teaching poetry revision to elementary schoolers, I write on the board: Re/vision.
We parse the word. "Re" means to do again. For "vision," I draw a pair of goofy glasses on the board. Revision doesn't mean editing or proofreading. It literally means to see again, with fresh eyes.
Often, those fresh eyes see something I don't want to look at. Like an entire scene or poem from a book that's not working. Ouch. But my revision glasses work like the glasses I put on every morning. They help me see better. If I tried to drive the story without them, I'd be all over the road.
Today, I'm revising my middle grade yearbook-in-verse, THE COUGAR CHRONICLE.
Here is a persona poem in the voice of a girl from my fictional fifth grade class. My writer friend Marjory Bancroft said, "I got nothing in this poem -- no sense of story, rhythm, character, personality."
Ode to My Twin
By Sydney Costley
I love the whooshing sound
when the glass doors open
and kids rush out for recess.
Basketball, four square, tag,
laughing, yelling, running.
But then Ashlie had to start
teaching all the girls cheers.
If Mary Rose wants to
prance around copying
stuck up Ashlie Hauk
I got no time for her.
I told her so.
And she said, "Fine."
I went behind the school to hide.
My sister Sonya followed me.
She said, "Cheerleading's dumb.
I'd rather make a jump shot
than jump for joy when some boy scores."
We played hoops one on one
for the rest of recess, me and my
number one BFF,
I sat on Marjory's comments for months, hoping I could rescue the poem. I liked how it described recess, touched on problems Sydney was having with her friend (a thread that shows up later in the story), and developed the relationship between Sydney and her twin.
But the revision glasses told me it was time to chuck the poem and start over.
I used one of my favorite tricks and tried a different form, keeping in mind the story and character elements I liked in the original. So...let's see if an ekphrastic poem will work better for Sydney. She's a hands-on learner, likes phys ed, recess and Art. I took out a Van Gogh portrait that I use with elementary schoolers when we write self-portrait poems. Here is Sydney's new poem.
by Sydney Costley
Miss Hill said we could make a portrait
just like in art class, except instead of colors
we could use words to make the picture.
And I remembered that portrait
Ms. Musay showed us in Art
where Vincent Van Gogh painted his face green!
Blue green swirls all around him,
vines of blue crawling on his jacket.
It looked like his clothes wanted to move.
I know how that feels.
My name is Sydney.
My color is green.
My words say there is green grass behind me,
under my feet on the soccer field,
under my head when I look up at the sky.
My face has blue lines curving down
when Mary Rose spends recess learning cheers
from Ashlie Hauk instead of shooting hoops with me.
When I'm running, I like the way
the sun shines on my dark blue windbreaker
like waves sliding across the ocean.
I wish I could jump into my portrait poem,
forget about school and dive into that ocean.
I'd swim away.
What do you think? Did the revision glasses do their job?
(Sydney is thinking about playing with the shape of her poem, to give it a swirly feeling like Van Gogh's painting. -- Still revising!)