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It’s Time to Get to Know Patrick Lane

Posted by Pamela Richardson

Washita by Patrick Lane
Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park, BC. 2014

If you are looking for new poems from a BC writer that are both masterful yet accessible for adolescent readers and writers then Patrick Lane’s more recent collection, Washita, is a wonderful selection. His imagery, often drawn from the natural world of BC and Western Canada is relatable and evocative, and his language is powerful, often direct and not overly obscure (“I woke up on Six Mile Creek, a willow grouse falling from the sky”) helping us to get to the emotional truth of a moment. He generously provides a glossary at the end to give context for more obscure references, which adds an interesting historical and linguistic layer and commentary. In this glossary we learn that a washita is a sharpening stone fashioned out of white quartz rock from the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas.

The collection itself was fashioned extremely slowly, as Lane explains in the afterwards to the book. Due to a frozen right shoulder he could not raise his right hand to the keyboard. Lane, a right-handed, one-fingered typist, painstakingly crafted each poem using his non-dominant left index finger. Moreover, his left hand (and right side of his brain) did not know, as his right-hand did, where the letters on the keyboard were and so he had to search out each letter, each time, for each word: T—h—e…. Even simple little words took a while. This gave him lots of time to consider what he wanted to say and how. This writing process brings a stillness and meditative quality to the work and a sense of the poems being utterly balanced.

I had the chance to hear Patrick Lane read from this collection at the book’s launch in the Fall of 2014 in Victoria. Lane is a superb reader of his own work. While I don’t have a clip from Washita, I recommend clips such as this one to hear him read his work.

Place-Making with Poetry

Posted by Celia Brogan

We are halfway through Poetry Month! In a change from last year, this April we are focusing on specifically BC literatures in support of the ABPBC’s Read Local BC campaign but luckily, when we look around poetry features prominently in the local cannon.

Today I would like to continue a thread started yesterday and share another iten created by the intersection of Local + Maps + Story.

A Verse Map of Vancouver  ed. George McWhirter (photographs by Derek Von Essen) is a beautiful volume of poetry and photographs whose aim is to celebrate and “represent the city’s places and principal features in poetry.” (from the introduction) It’s not meant to be exhaustive, but a snapshot of the city (so to speak: the actual photographs often are more portrait-like than snapshot.)

I love the idea of a verse map. Should you be inspired by this idea, the breadth of topography might vary: from covering a region or your entire town, to remaining on within the bounds of the school property.

Another book that could fall within the Local + Maps + Story thread, and is simultaneously smaller and larger in scope, is Gulf Islands Alphabet by Bronwyn Preece (Illustrated by Alex Walton). This picture book is a poetic description of the Gulf Islands and the Salish Sea, featuring an alphabetic sequence of alliterative passages accompanied by rich watercolour illustrations. It differs from A Verse Map of Vancouver in that it covers a wider area, but does so with a single text. It’s another option to inspire a way for students to engage with their geography through poetry.
(One drawback of this text for me is the minimal mention of First Nations’ current and historical use of the area as well as not enough information about marine life. These two aspects can serve as entry points for a critical reading.)

If you have a local resource of this sort for your town or area in BC, please share it in the comments!

Homegrown, and still growing

Posted by Celia Brogan

What writing is more homegrown BC writing than that of our students? The BCTELA Student Writing Contest is more than a great way for students to give their writing a broader audience, the published pieces, Voices Visible, is also a useful resource to show our students what their peers are writing.

BCTELA members receive a copy of Voices Visible free, and you can order additional copies to make up a lit circle/text set group, or enough for a whole class set.

BC features as a setting in many of the pieces in Voices Visible, either completely or sometimes as a juxtaposition to an immigrant’s home of origin. Students can find their home in these pieces written by their peers in a way that may be different than from pieces written by adults. Do you have back issues of Voices Visible? Try it: copy a piece or two and see what your students think, or try including a book or two in a poetry text set.

This year’s submissions are due at the end of this month. Click here for the application form and contest rules. You must be a current BCTELA member to submit your students’ work.

Poetry Month: day 20

Well, this April has been pretty good, poetry-wise.  I will finish this series by telling you about a poetry month initiative I run in my school.  The idea was shared with me by a colleague and I’ve modified it a bit.  I wouldn’t be surprised if other schools do it too.  It’s called Poem in my Pocket and my version is simple:
To participate in Poem in my Pocket students must

  1. find a poem they like (in a book, online, on a bus, anywhere!), or write one of their own
  2. copy that poem onto a piece of paper.
  3. carry that piece of paper in their pocket a while.
  4. bring the poem to me and read it aloud to me.
  5. repeat.

I then take their poem and post it on my “poetry wall” until the end of the month, at which time I put all the poems in a bin and draw a winner for a poetry-related prize.  Students may carry/read/enter as many poems as they like.  This year I have a grade three student who has entered approximately twelve poems–she shows up every few days with two or three new ones to read to me; a few years ago I had a student who entered between 20-30 poems, all authored by her.  I love how this ‘event’ brings out the poetry bugs in my students.

This year the prize is two tickets to the Poetry in Voice finals.  I thought it would be the perfect prize to go hear older students reciting poetry when that’s what these students have been doing for me.

Thank you for celebrating Poetry Month with us here at BCTELA.
I will leave you with a simile one of my grade five students wrote today:

The apple blossoms sway like swings carrying the wind.

 

Poetry Month: day 19

Well, April is almost over.  There has been lots of poetry at my school this month, I hope there has been at yours too.

Yesterday I sat down to have an informal book club meeting with a colleague (we’ve been trying to read a professional text on teaching creative writing and it’s been a sporadic endeavour) and our conversation went from creative writing, to chatting about a collaborative social studies project we’re doing together,  to having a SUPER AWESOME poetry brainwave!

My colleague, Kelly, and I were discussing how we might build a short poetry piece into her class’ creative writing for term three, when we got of topic talking abut some struggles her students were having with the big social studies project they’re doing.

The SS project is called Historica.  You may have something like it at your school: students choose a historical event, within their grade-based time period, to research and produce a variety of products to show their understanding.  All the intermediate students participate and there is a big celebration at the end.

What we ended up with was a great solution to both these issues: we have decided to teach her students a simplified version of epic, or narrative, poetry.   I teach Kelly’s prep time so we have lots of class time to work with.  We will start with a review of basic figurative language (simile, metaphor, personification, alliteration.)  I will practice those with the class until the students have a general facility with them.  Kelly will focus on voice and word choice in the non-fiction writing they’re doing for their research project.  Soon I will start to read some story-poems and tell them about epic poetry.  We will talk about narrators in prose texts (fiction and non-fiction) and in poetry.  They will write their own story poems, on topics of their own choice (or maybe we’ll do the stories of movies they already know, like Frozen) and I will ask them to use at least one each of the basic devices so I can check their understanding.  Eventually we will hand out story/poetry frames that Kelly and I have written, tailored to each of their Historica topics (such as “the last spike,” “the potlatch ban,” and “the war of 1812.”)  For instance, for the group researching the potlatch ban, the frame might start with a narrative voice explaining the significance of the potlatch to the Haida people, followed by the voice/perspective of an enforcing Indian Agent, followed by the voice/perspective of a Haida chief or other member of the community, finished by the effect of the ban.  The frame is simple, but it provides the two grade 4 students a guide with some of the basic aspects of their topic (which is challenging for them).  They will have to write a four-section narrative poem, based on their research, and using figurative language appropriate to the form.

I’m looking forward to seeing if this works, and what kind of results we get (in products, and in students’ enduring understandings.)

Poetry Month: day 18

Poetry sucks.

Or at least, that’s what we hear all the time as English teachers.

It’s boring, and dull, and doesn’t make sense. It’s not alive. And, it’s old school. As my English Connected team began planning what we could offer for students in our upcoming focus on poetry last month, we discussed the plethora of negative associations our students had expressed about poetry. It’s challenging for a team of English teachers who have a love of poetry and literature to hear from the faces in front of us a high degree of disengagement with a topic before it’s even launched in class. The resounding feedback I heard from my peers was the need to make poetry relevant and engaging, and offer students a voice.

One of the joys of my teaching assignment is teaching in a Connected Learning environment. I collaboratively plan and deliver instruction with three other teachers in rural, distant sites across SD74. We merge our classrooms via videoconferencing, shared online spaces, the creation and sharing of student created media, and shared experiences. With regular structured collaboration throughout the year, I get to draw from the strengths of four unique teachers with different perspectives, talents and passions. While technology was the initial hook, it is the relationships and energy of the people within the team that has sustained the momentum of the project. It was this team, and the innovative educators within it, that breathed new life into the way we were approaching poetry.

We wanted to focus on both the literary devices that support students to craft powerful poetic writing as well as the speaking skills needed to deliver powerful oral readings. My colleague Jen Eddie proposed that we differ our focus this year, and offer the students a chance to express themselves via spoken word. Jen and I co-planned the unit we would launch, and the scaffolding our students would need to write and deliver spoken word poetry. We wanted our students to be creators, and to be able to build an artifact of their learning that they could share with the larger English Connected audience. We knew that our students would struggle to perform their spoken words live via video conferencing, and be concerned about the high pressure situation that might place them in. We opted to use technology to enhance the spoken words with strong visual imagery that was sharable in a digital format across the sites.

We launched with a theme of crossing boundaries, and asked students to brainstorm and deconstruct themes that were challenging and multifaceted. Many of these issues took on a social justice theme, and students spent time connecting to a particular issue they felt strongly about. With student generated topics ranging from racism, substance abuse, the environment, beauty and animals, students worked both individually and collaboratively to pull of details and powerful vocabulary they could weave into their spoken word. We also focused on oral techniques, such as repetition, rhythm, crescendo, decrescendo, pause, and rhyming patterns, and students experimented with using these oral techniques to create emphasis. Using examples from the web allowed students to see impressive exemplars that displayed powerful writing, purposeful oral techniques, and visual imagery that deepened the message.

Although the medium of delivery was up to students, most chose to use  a free web-based software called Powtoon. The software allows for incredible creative control in both image and word visual animations, voice-overs, and layering multiple audio tracks. It’s a simple software that students were quick to master and use to create spoken word animations that delivered convincing messages and greatly enhanced the written and spoken component of their poetry. Student engagement was high, and students who don’t often engaged in class found this unit approachable and personal, and they were able to structure spoken words in ways that worked for them. It allowed students who sometimes struggle with formal writing and conventions to share their voice in a unique way to the larger Connected audience. One of my students remarked that this was the first time in his life that “poetry didn’t suck.”

To check out some of th amazing student-created spoken animations, check out our English Connected youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/connectedenglish

 

This has been a guest post by BCTELA member Brooke Haller

English Connected teacher, SD74

Poetry Month: day 15

Today’s poetry resource is one that is not just for poetry.  It is something that our students need when they do any kind of writing.  Today’s resource is, at times, precious.  It is TIME TO WRITE.

This was the fourth week of April as far as my poetry lessons were concerned.  The first week I introduced my classes to found poetry, the second week we looked at the pantoum, and the third we dabbled in spoken word/ performance poetry.  This week I gave them open time to do one of the following: complete one of the poems they started with me over the last few weeks; write further poetry in one of the forms we’ve looked at; write their own poetry, free verse or in a form they’ve learned about in previous years; if it’s really not a writing kind of day they can read the poems in one of the many books we have on display.

I have been keeping this pattern all year: a handful of lessons/ writing starts and then a few open work periods for them to go back and work on one piece that like the best.  This also allows me to conference with individual students as needed.  I have noticed that they have gotten much better at being on task as the year progressed.  I am not their regular enrolling classroom teacher and the pace with me is sometimes different than they have in the classroom.  I was very pleased this week as I wandered around the room and listened to their conversations about poem topics, rhyming words, and hearing them sharing their poetry with each other.

I haven’t taught them everything I could have about poetry this month (obviously, I don’t have to stop just because April will end), but I believe that they stretched themselves a bit as writers and that they now have a few more ideas to work with as they continue down that road.

Poetry Month: day 14

Happy Earth Day!

I taught again today the lesson I described on day 10. It was another group of 6/7s and I used the same poems from Joyful Voices for them to practice and present.  One difference was that I didn’t use the Shane Koyczan “To This Day” as the introduction.  I found that, while a great piece, it didn’t exhibit the particular characteristics of slam poetry I wanted my students to notice and attempt to imitate: Koyczan’s piece is too polished, too smooth.

Luckily, the other night I came across this piece from the Brave New Voices festival slam competition (this particular piece has been picked up by Upworthy and made a round on facebook so you may have seen it.)  It is a poem for two voices, which is great for my students to see and hear what I’m going to be asking them to do in the second part of the lesson.  I ask them to listen for how the two voices work together, and off each other.  This piece is by two young women and is on the subject of religious stereotypes le viagra pas cher.

If you poke around the Brave New Voices website, you will find the Speak Green page.  What a perfect source for Earth Day!  (you can use it next year.)  This collection of environmental poetry is a pretty cool spark to inspire some of our young poets to challenge themselves to focus their creative voices on a issue that matters to all of us.

 

Poetry Month: day 13

When in need of new poetry activities, or poems to share with your students, why not stop by your school library and chat with your teacher-librarian?  Poetry in your library will be in the 811s (occasionally in the 819s).  Your teacher-librarian will likely have connections to resource-networks outside your school, and at the very least he or she will have a different perspective and set of inspirations for you to draw upon.

When we collaborate with a colleague, especially someone like a TL, who has a unique relationship with all the students in the school, we can incorporate a richness into your practice. I love working with colleagues, whether it’s a brainstorm over lunch in the staffroom, or a co-planned, co-taught unit.  I always feel like I do more conscientious work when I partner with someone.

Poetry Month: day 12

Today’s resource is one by our very own Starleigh Grass, who has served on the BCTELA executive a few times and who currently works for FNESC.

Starleigh wrote an article about using poetry text sets on social justice themes last year that is worth looking at again.  She shares a favourite unit on poetry.org on developing voice, and then suggests her list of poetry texts to adapt the voice unit to a more Canadian context.  She then briefly discuses ways in which poetry can be used as a path into inquiry.

Starleigh is a thoughtful and reflective writer and curriculum developer and I regularly enjoy hearing her perspective on complex subjects, such as the social justice topics listed in her post.  The texts she shares in this post are ones I would likely not have come across myself, and I am grateful for members of the BCTELA community like her for sharing.

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