April 12, 2016

Friday, August 17, 2012

Poetry Friday: Writing about News

Many Poetry Friday bloggers who write for kids are also accomplished poets for adults. Irene Latham is one of those.

Irene blogs at Live Your Poem.
This summer, I have been savoring Irene's book The Color of Lost Rooms. Many of the poems are character sketches and persona poems, spoken in the voice of a character.

Buy a copy!
Putting the focus on a single person is somewhat like writing a focused image poem. The character (or the object, in focused image) represents a larger truth, but is distilled through one person. 

I like this technique for writing poems about current events, particularly when trying to tackle a BIG event -- one that has affected the public consciousness.

If you've ever worked with teen writers, you know that they have a deep desire to write about social issues and events. It's an admirable goal and one we writing teachers should encourage.

However, teens often write about these things from a distance: generic soldiers marching as they hear gunfire, homeless children standing in the street. While these images are real, the media has made them familiar to the point of cliche. How, then, do we write about big events without generalizing?

One solution, write small. Write specific. Don't try to tackle the whole forest fire. Write about one house, one tree.

Take a look at how this works in Irene's simple, yet powerful poem, "After Katrina."

After Katrina

She loosens laces, widens mouth
of soggy shoes, then leaves them
to dry on the weathered railing where
they soon sprout pine straw

and a wren darts out -- four pink
eggs hidden just beneath the tongue.
She backs into the house, careful
not to let the screen door slap shut,

and for a heartbeat she is neither
grateful nor resentful, just a woman
pressing her toes into warm linoleum,
pulling apart a piece of day-old bread.

Posted with permission of the author.

Some discussion questions if you read this poem with your students:
  • Would you have the same reading experience if this poem were titled, "The Wren?"
  • Why did the poet leave Hurricane Katrina out of the poem itself, only referring to that disaster in the title?
  • What does the wren symbolize to the woman in the poem?
The focus on one person's moment of normalcy when nothing feels normal gives the poem balance. This is a good lesson for high schoolers in particular, but also for any poet who aims to write about big topics and feels overwhelmed by the task.

If you'd like to read more poetry related to current events, check out the e-zine The New Verse News.

Wishing you a happy Poetry Friday! Thanks to Andi at A Wrung Sponge for hosting today's round up.


Irene Latham said...

Wow, Laura, you have a way of making poetry so accessible to any writer. I am not surprised after having read the wonderful exercises (and results!) in VOICES FLY. Great stuff in there! Thank you for showcasing my poem... I am printing to include in my workshop arsenal. xo

Diane Mayr said...

Wow, Laura, that's an awesome tribute to life! Thanks for sharing it Laura.

Jeannine Atkins said...

I love this: "Don't try to tackle the whole forest fire. Write about one house, one tree."

And love thinking of you spending your summer with "The Color of Lost Rooms." This summer I had a chance to meet Irene in person, and that made me take the volume off my shelf to reread. Wonderful. Love those little rooms, maybe especially the ones she finds between frames, and draws out. Or that could be because I've been obsessing about windows lately.

Renee LaTulippe said...

What a beautiful, bittersweet moment Irene captures in this poem. I love the advice to write small. Thank you for this glimpse into The Color of Lost Rooms.

Tabatha said...

I got goosebumps! Masterfully done. Thanks, Laura and Irene!

Mary Lee said...

Unexpected change of plans: the roundup is at A Year of Reading Thanks for changing your link!

Mary Lee said...

LOVE this poem.

I agree with Jeannine about a favorite line.