Liz Garton Scanlon (liz_scanlon) wrote,
Liz Garton Scanlon

Lying through our teeth at school

Yesterday I did the first of a two-day writing workshop with a group of local 5th graders. 

The topic was poetry, and my take on it was this:

Poetry's hard to pin down.

Is it short? 
I read from some books I'd brought and the kids had all written haiku before. 
So, yes, we had evidence: poetry is short.
Um. No. 
We talked about epic poetry. And I read to them that old ditty about James James Morrison Morrison
(They could not believe, by the way, that someone -- an ordinary guy -- had invented Winnie the Pooh.)
The conclusion? Poetry is sometimes short and sometimes long.

Does it rhyme? 
Yes -- and we read some very funny Mary Ann Hoberman to prove it.
But, I mean, does it always rhyme.
Oh. No. I guess not.
This dreamy free verse doesn't. 
So poetry's sometimes rhymed and sometimes unrhymed.

And what's it about?
Nature? Yep.
Love? Check.
Life, called out one student.
Stuff, called out another.
Death, said a third.
And how about this? I asked, as I turned to Thumbs by Shel Silverstein.
Thumb sucking.
Poetry can be about anything.


This is what scares people about poetry. 
It's hard to pin down.
If you don't know what it is, how can you read or write it with any confidence?

But, I suggested, what if we look at that as part of the adventure?
What if we like breaking rules?
What if use incomplete sentences and make up words?
What if we lie?

Everyone perked up a little at this point. 
What if we lie??!!

And so we did. *
Here's the first effort, a collaborative poem full of untruths.
I think it's pretty swell.

And That's the Truth

The sky is green.
I don't like to gamble,
Miguel hates money
and I hate chocolate.

Trees grow under the ground
and camels have beaks.
I'm a midget,
buffalos have wings
and horses fly.

People don't sing
and cats bark.
We don't go
to the Austin Discovery School 
and the world is safe
right now.

* Kenneth Koch talks about lies in his book Wishes, Lies and Dreams. That book and his Rose, Where Did You Get That Red? really inspire me, as a writer and a teacher. 

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