April 12, 2016

Friday, May 25, 2012

Poetry Friday: Mummy of Lady Teshat

It's a very happy Poetry Friday for me. By the time you read this, I will be in Florida, meeting my brand new nephew, Jagger Max. Jagger was born on April Fool's Day which, to anyone who knows my brother, shows that our newest family member already has a sense of poetic justice.

For the past week, I have been blogging about my portrait poem workshop. This is one of the most powerful lessons I do with kids. Encouraging students to write from a stranger's point of view works magic on their brains.

Today, I'll share a story from the poetry classroom, along with a student poem.

During April and May, I was in residence at Swansfield Elementary in Columbia, MD. On portrait poem day, the school's wonderful art teacher provided us with dozens of fine art posters. PTA President (and residency organizer) Jen Mallo put the artwork up all around the classroom. When Ms. Salazar's students walked in from lunch, there were walls full of faces looking back at them.

If you want to try the lesson (I've used it for grades 3 through HS), you can read my full portrait lesson here. After I shared the model portrait and poem, the fifth graders had a few minutes to select a work of art.

Malaika N. chose this:
Mummy Case of Lady Teshat
I usually circulate around the room while students are writing. Malaika was quite absorbed in her work. When you read her poem, notice that it follows the structure I modeled. It begins with what you can see in the image -- the "facts" of the portrait. The point of departure, "what I can't see," begins with the word "Inside." From that moment, Malaika's imagination was working deep into the heart of the mummy.

Malaika stood and read this poem to her classmates as the period was ending. The room was silent. We all felt something amazing had happened. With words, Malaika made a strong emotional connection between herself, a 3,000-year-old mummy from approximately, and her audience.

Mummy of Lady Teshat
by Malaika N.

Mummified lady.
The casket resembles her.
Triangles and designs are all over.
She has dark hair and big eyes.
Inside, she screams to come out.
The gathering anger of 10,000 years
with a powerful kick will set her free.
Now she roams free.
She also roams unseen.
Now she is as weak as a baby bird.
She crumples to the ground.
Her dust finds it way back.
She is forever trapped in what she calls
the box of the afterlife.

Lady Teshat "lives" at the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts
I took a second to check in with Malaika before I left for the day. When a poet connects with an audience, the words take on energy as she speaks them. It is a physical sensation, hard to explain but unforgettable if you have experienced it (either as a poet or as an audience member).

"You felt that, didn't you?" I asked Malaika. She did. It was a transformational moment for her, but also for her classmates.

The Swansfield fifth graders have been revising and typing up their poems. I know Malaika worked on "Lady Teshat." I can't wait to see what she's done with the poem. You can read up on this work of art here.You can even share information about the mummy's recent CT scan with your science buffs.

Thank you to Malaika's family and to the Swansfield team for allowing me to share this poem.

Have a great Poetry Friday. I'll be posting more student poems next week. For now, please visit Linda at Teacher Dance for more poetry posts.


Liz Steinglass said...

I felt it too when I read the poem and your description of the lesson. I love the idea of asking kids to take the perspective of a stranger.

Thanks for sharing.

jama said...

Incredible poem! Thanks for sharing Malaika's story.

Renee LaTulippe said...

Wow, what an amazing moment for this girl, and what an evocative poem she created. "The gathering anger of 10,000 years with a powerful kick will set her free" - what a line!

Thanks so much for sharing. :)

Katya said...

Oooh. I love the last two lines of Malaika's poem -- they gave me the shivers. Thank you, Mailaika, for sharing your poem with us.

Robyn Hood Black said...

Wow - What a talented young poet, and what a great project! Congratulations to Malaika on such fine work. That's something - to make a connection spanning thousands of years, and to express it so well.

And a hearty "welcome to the world" to Baby Jagger! Safe travels.

Diane Mayr said...

She is forever trapped in what she calls
the box of the afterlife.
These lines show a great maturity and much promise. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Tara said...

What a powerful and imaginative lesson. I can't wait to gather posters over the summer and give this a go next year. I hope you share the final version of this poem!

Author Amok said...

Hi, everyone. Thanks for your comments. I am safely in Florida and the little one is asleep!

I'm glad you all felt the power of this poem and were able to share this amazing experience. Once students walk through that door and realize they have a strong voice, they always have that voice available to them.

Tara -- let me know how it goes when you try the lesson.

Linda B said...

I have done this with different kinds of art, but always must have at least one person in it. I've never stuck with just a portrait, and having them step into 1st person for the poem. What a wonderful challenge & what support you must have given them in just a brief time. This poem is quite personal, & those final two lines. inevitable. What an intuitive girl Malaika is.

Ruth said...

How wonderful is it to get to experience these moments with young writers? The best thing about teaching!

rena traxel said...

Oh wow. The last two lines are especially powerful.

Doraine said...

Oooh. That's beautiful. Nice work from teacher and student. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful moment.

violet said...

What a powerful poem. That poetry-writing and -reading experience may be life-changing for Malaika. It's amazing how many writers got their start in an elementary school affirmation moment like the one you provided in your class.

Author Amok said...

Thanks, everyone. I'm so glad that this poem reads as powerfully on the screen as it did in person.

This is what a poetry residency is all about -- giving kids exposure to a different style of writing than their regular classroom assignments. It's amazing how many of them shine when they have the opportunity to write -- no grades, limited boundaries.

Heidi Mordhorst said...

Oh my! "Her dust finds its way back." Laura, you (and Ms. Salazar) must have created a very safe space for that shared and personal experience.

Writing from art of all kinds--portraits, photography, landscapes--and artifact always works well in classrooms because it moots the scary question of what to write about. "It's in front of you: pick the one that reaches out and grabs you. Now go." Wonderful lesson, and I can see how to make it work with K, too!