Friday, May 21, 2010

Poetry Friday: Self Portrait Exercise

I love writing self-portrait poems with children. But the task can be daunting unless you help them focus. Kids are complicated persons!

I've done this a couple of ways. Sometimes I share a self-portrait by Vincent Van Gogh where the tones are overwhelmingly blue-green. Students choose a color to guide their self-descriptions.

Sometimes I ask students to follow the story of how they got their names. This result is a narrative self-portrait poem, often with a sense of family history.

I'm thrilled to have Kansas Poet Laureate Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg joining me for Poetry Friday today.

Caryn has a self-portrait writing exercise to share. Her model poem is "Self-Portrait as Hand."


Self-Portrait as Hand

I tell fortunes, the lines in me extinct
talismans. It’s really the muscles
that lift and open the world,
apple by apple. I’m not afraid
of my strength, the engine souls
of my palms, the curling and
uncurling fingers you depend on
without noticing. I’m wizened as
an old tree, spiffy as a happy tool.
I’m holding things or taking them,
falling on the keys, aiming toward
ignition, leaning on an arm
or leaping to his waist when
no one’s looking.
I’m good-looking too,
never too fat or ill-clad,
loopy as a cocktail party,
sporting my wedding band
like a loose bone.
When you stop mostly all the
other limbs and muscles, I’m still
agile as apples, happy as
the day is long, holding all
that can’t be held
without dropping a word.

Posted with permission of the author.

Writing exercise: write you own self-portrait as part of your body, or as an object, piece of furniture or type of weather.

Thanks, Caryn. This is a great way to work on metaphor using a focused image.

I asked Caryn a few questions about her job as the Sunflower State's poet laureate.

Do you, as Kansas' poet laureate, have a project?

Yes, and my project is called "Poetry Across Kansas: Reading and Writing Our Way Home." It encompasses writing workshops, using the poetry of Kansas poets as writing prompts, as well as sessions to train community leaders, artists and writers to lead ongoing writing circles in their towns.

I also offer poetry contests each April (as part of National Poetry Month), and I run a Poetry Pen Pal project, which matches up writers across the state to share their work, help one another revise and strengthen their writing, and look into publishing and public readings (all pen pal participants get a big packet of material to help them get started). 

I love the sound of Poetry Pen Pals. What a fun project that would be for kids.

What are the duties of a poet laureate in your state?

I do a monthly podcast that I send out to a large email list and to all media contacts in Kansas, and that I post on my blog and on the Kansas Arts Commission website. I also write regular columns, and do readings and workshops throughout the state.

Tomorrow, Caryn will fill us in on the literary scene in Kansas, including some advice for teaching poetry in the classroom. Add school workshops to the list of poetry outreach she does!


Poetry Friday is brought to you by the letter L. Stop by Laura Salas' Writing the World for Kids more poetry.

9 comments:

Tabatha said...

Wow, that's a terrific poem, and Caryn's got great ideas, too!

Thanks for sharing. I look forward to the next post.

laurasalas said...

I love all the contrasting things in this poem and can see how kids could use this as a jumping off point--cool!

And it sounds like she's doing wonderful things as Kansas' Poet Laureate. Way to go!

jama said...

Wonderful to meet Caryn and since I love anything about hands, this poem was perfect!

Author Amok said...

I love how the poem evokes palm-reading without mentioning it specifically. Still thinking about those apples and their significance.

The winner of the Maryland Young Writer's poetry contest (HS division) wrote this type of poem. Check it out here: http://www.bluetoad.com/publication/?i=36725

Author Amok said...

Jama -- definitely check out the student poem. Link is above. It's a portrait told through hands.

all things poetry said...

Wow, Laura, I went to Caryn's website link and she is a busy person! She has great ideas!

Loved the poem.

Laura Evans

Author Amok said...

Glad you liked it, Laura. The poets laureate are busy people -- very committed to poetry outreach in their communities.

Mary Lee said...

Go, Poets Laureate! You rock!

I'm trying to decide whether or not to let my aching back tell the story of me, or whether it should be told by my swimmer-strong shoulders...

Author Amok said...

Mary Lee -- maybe they should fight over you. I think you've got a poem there.