April 12, 2016

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Leaping off the Cliff

As writers, sometimes we have to leap off the imaginative cliff and trust that something will be there to lift us. A magical cloud? A boy with wax wings? A talking bird that wants a strand of our hair for its nest?

My last workshop with the Northfield third graders was all about imaginative leaps.

We use the fabulous Calef Brown's poem, "Eliza's Jacket," as a model. (Go to youtube to find some of Brown's poems set to music. They're so much fun!)

Eliza’s Jacket 
Eliza has a jacket,
a jacket made of pockets.
The pockets all have numbers,
numbers on the jacket pockets.
Pocket three has bees inside,
sixteen contains their honey.
Number eight has cracker crumbs
and wads of Turkish money.
Twenty-three is filled with gum
(all unchewed I hope),
while right next door in twenty-four
is kept a one-inch piece of rope.
Thirteen is packed with useless facts,
and four has melted snow.
What’s in the rest you’ll have to guess.
It’s not for us to know.
Used with the author’s permission.
The poem is deceptively simple, but get kids talking about why Brown said Eliza has "melted snow" in her pocket instead of "water," and you'll be amazed at their insights.

For one day, I let students have a jacket like Eliza's. The pockets hold anything their imaginations can create. Two rules -- no money (just write what you want) and no wishes or creatures who grant them (again, just write what you want.)

Here is Michael D's cerebral response:

I have a jacket,
a jacket made of pockets.
In number 197,
I have a miniature brain.
It has 9,999 IQ,
and it goes into my head.
When it does,
I don't have to think.
So when I have a test,
I get an A plus.
And I won't have to do things like
take days to invent a time machine,
and my Reading homework too.
I'd get invited to somewhere
with people asking me how I'm so smart.
I'd live a great life,
with luxury at every place.

Quentin B's poem is tactile and powerful:

I have a jacket,
a jacket made of pockets.
In pocket 3,000 I have
a magic tornado that's the
size of a skyscraper.
It makes the sound
of an  airplane zooming
in the air. If someone
is being mean to you
the tornado will
suck them up and
trap them in my
pocket until I
want to take
them out.

I'm fond of magical clothing. Once a class and I invented a magic coat that changed with the weather. It grew fur in the winter, air conditioned in the heat, and at night it could glow in the dark.

If you try this prompt in the classroom, the Northfield teachers and I developed a fun craft to go with it. Write the poems on a square of white paper. Then give each child a blue "pocket" to decorate. Post the pockets with the poems loose inside. Kids and parents love lifting the poems out to read. Enjoy!

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