Friday, September 21, 2012

Lies My Teacher (almost) Taught Me

I began by writing poems for my kids, envisioning a single collection for all ages, to be read by families, preferably fireside.
I have no idea where this fantasy originated since as a single parent, after I was done working overtime to make ends meet, after the kids’ play practices and homework, if we did sit down together as a family it was to watch reruns of the Cosby Show, not read a potpourri of poems for teens and toddlers. Family friend Betsy Byars straightened me out on that score; she told me if I could sort my poems out by age and subject matter, there was a chance I could get published. I snapped out of my fantasy world and followed her advice.

I mostly write about my own experiences and neuroses and have never been inclined to write forty poems about dinosaurs or holidays, poems that would cleverly fit into a single topic and therefore grade level lesson plan. However, I have done my best (with a whole lot of editorial assistance) to group my poetry by age level. A pouty poem such as “I Hate My Body” just doesn’t work for second graders, for instance. They may be able to decode the words, but the sentiment of the poem doesn’t catch up with them until adolescence.

Today I received the following email from a fourth grade teacher: “Question-what reading level is your poem, Lies? What age level is the audience of this poem? Please respond asap, thanks!”

I answered: “I have always thought that part of me was stuck around the age of 12 – I often find myself writing in a voice of that age. But I have to confess, that I have not even as an adult totally outgrown the sentiment of this poem. This poem is about putting on your game face instead of facing up to how you really feel. When do kids start to do that? I’m not sure.”

She responded: “Thank you!! I teach fourth grade and am required to teach this poem to 9-10 year olds...I am not finding they have the maturation for it....and I so appreciate your telling us what you meant when you wrote it. Thanks again!”

The word “required” makes my teeth itch.
The 9-10 year olds are required to read this poem?
She is required to teach it?
Whose fireside fantasy was this? That it would be beneficial for us all to be introduced by requirement?

I am developing increasing sympathy for the ghost of William Blake.


I got burned, but
you can't say that I'm abused,
I'm just down
and feeling used.
My eyes are dark
but dry;
no one knows
about the lie.

I never should have smiled
and said
that everything's all right.
I should have said,
"Hold on,"
but I’m scared to spark a fight.

When I'm all buffed up
in smiles
you can't say I'm victimized.
This arson is my crime.
I set fire to my insides
with a lie,
a smile
that let my hurting

©1997 Sara Holbrook
Walking on the Boundaries of Change

Hint: If you are required to teach this poem, begin by asking kids if there was ever a time when their insides did not match their outsides.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The Poetry Friday Anthology

If you are looking for age appropriate poetry to share with your students, check out this new anthology ed. by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong.  It contains one poem a week for 39 weeks for each grade level, K-5.  Poems the kids can relate to, current, challenging, and engaging.  Poems for sharing and to provoke conversation about themes and language. 

The poets in this book are: Joy Acey, Arnold Adoff, Jaime Adoff, Kathi Appelt, Jeannine Atkins, Brod Bagert, Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, Robyn Hood Black, Susan Taylor Brown, Joseph Bruchac, Jen Bryant, Leslie Bulion, Stephanie Calmenson, Deborah Chandra, Cynthia Cotten, Kristy Dempsey, Graham Denton, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Margarita Engle, Betsy Franco, Carole Gerber, Charles Ghigna, Joan Bransfield Graham, John Grandits, Nikki Grimes, Lorie Ann Grover, Monica Gunning, Mary Lee Hahn, Avis Harley, David L. Harrison, Terry Webb Harshman, Juanita Havill, Georgia Heard, Esther Hershenhorn, Sara Holbrook, Carol-Ann Hoyte, Patricia Hubbell, Jacqueline Jules, Bobbi Katz , X. J. Kennedy, Michele Krueger, Julie Larios, Irene Latham, JonArno Lawson, Gail Carson Levine, Constance Levy, Debbie Levy, J. Patrick Lewis, George Ella Lyon, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Heidi Mordhorst, Kenn Nesbitt, Lesléa Newman, Linda Sue Park, Ann Whitford Paul, Gregory Pincus, Jack Prelutsky, Mary Quattlebaum, Heidi Bee Roemer, Michael J. Rosen, Deborah Ruddell, Laura Purdie Salas, Michael Salinger, Ken Slesarik, Eileen Spinelli, Susan Marie Swanson, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Lee Wardlaw, Charles Waters, April Halprin Wayland, Carole Boston Weatherford, Steven Withrow, Allan Wolf, Janet Wong, and Jane Yolen.

The book is available from Amazon for $29.99 in paperback, $9.99 in Kindle, and $3.99 if you just want to buy one grade level.  But I wouldn't recommend that as teachers may want to browse other grade levels to find poems that fit with their classroom units. 

Sharing poetry is a fabulous way to get kids thinking, reading, and writing.  This anthology is fresh and fun, a good place to start for students and teachers who are looking for words and ideas to share.