Friday, March 12, 2010

Strength Training Your Stories! (And a poem about being lost for Poetry Friday!)

Happy Poetry Friday!

Today's poem is lost at the bottom of this post.

As Carmela has mentioned, on March 18th, from 1:45-3:45 pm, we Teaching Authors will be at the Illinois Reading Council presenting a workshop with DePaul University professors Roxanne Owens and Marie Donovan called Flabby to Fab-y: Writing Workouts to Shape Up Your Curriculum.

Exciting!  I am v-v-v-v-v-vibrating in anticipation of this adventure beyond my Southern California borders!  (I'm also packing winter underwear and mittens.)

In keeping with our workshop's title, here’s a “strength training” exercise which will surely help you and your students generate ideas and get that first draft down.

 ('re going to have to use your
writerly imaginations here.
Suddenly I can't upload images...
even ones I've used before.
So the cartoon I drew of a girl
bench pressing a giant pencil
is something you're just going to have to
conjure up on your own.
I know you can do it.)

This exercise comes from my friend, poet and prolific children's author Janet Wong.  Janet teaches this exercise to help kids and adults alike find content for poems.  But it could just as easily be used to jump start stories.

WRITING WORKOUT--Generating Ideas

She calls it her "Mind Walk" exercise.

Janet says,   “I write the numbers 10 to 5 on the board, in descending order, and I talk briefly about one memory from each of those years of my life.

As I talk about the memory, I jot down 3-5 words next to the year. I talk about my skateboard accident and stitches (7 years old), spitting milk on the table at a birthday party when someone told a funny joke (9 years old), riding an elephant (10 years old), getting in trouble for taking a nickel to show my underwear to the boy next door (5 years old)-various things.

Then I give the students 1 minute to jot down some memories.  This is easy for them because most of them have started thinking of memories while listening to my stories-you can see them practically bursting to tell someone about the time they broke an arm, or whatever.

At the end of the minute, I call on people to share their memories aloud (and this is another time when people get ideas).

I ask if anyone still has no memories; if hands go up, I then ask a bunch of silly questions: Have you ever cut your own hair, and it turned out awful? Have you ever vomited in public? Have you been embarrassed by your parents? Have you ever cheated, or lied for a friend-and gotten caught?

I then talk briefly about rhyme, repetition, and rhythm, and tell them to write their poem.

I tell them, "If you're stuck for a beginning, you might want to try something like this, writing "I am x years old" and describing what happened in the present tense, as if it's happening right now. A couple of them will take this route.

This exercise produces interesting results because it invites people to shock others and also reminds them of funny/strange things that they might otherwise never have the opportunity to remember. Such as: the woman in her mid-20s who put Nair hair-removing cream in her "friend's" shampoo bottle when she was a teen; the teen girl whose dog bit off her bird's head when she was 6 years old; the boy who accidentally set fire to a house with firecrackers at age 5, etc.”

Thank you, Janet!

So...what are YOUR childhood memories?  Write down ages 5-10 and unearth a few embarrassing or a silly or a tender or scary ones.  Then, risk all by writing a story or poem about one of them.  When you're done, as Esther Hershenhorn encourages, read your work aloud.

Do it!  And then...will you do me a huge favor?  Will you check in when you've done it?  Will you drop us a line in the comment section?  We live for your comments! 

Here’s a poem that came from one of my childhood memories:

by April Halprin Wayland

 I reach up to hold your hand.
 It isn’t yours.
 All of a sudden
                          there you aren’t.

 A forest of legs, legs,
 footsteps, footsteps:
 families clattering through the zoo
 to the elephants!  To the lions! 

 They’re all scared of the snake house,
 pushing past me
 boarding the fat tram—
                                     but nobody is you!

 My face is hot.  My buttons are tight.
 You are lost in this jumble of giant Strangers.
 Where are you? 
                       Where are you? 
                                              WHERE ARE YOU?

A navy-blue uniform
takes my sweaty hand,
gives me cold water,
turns on a microphone:

“Will the parents of a lost youngster
please come to the Zoo office.”

I’m sitting on the desk
sucking a cherry lollipop.

I’m not crying
       but those wet things
                                    keep running down
                                                                from my eyes...
 you come hugging!

This poem has been accepted for publication in Cricket Magazine.  Copyright © April HalprinWayland

Remember to breathe.  And remember to write with joy ~
Photo and drawing by April Halprin Wayland


Irene Latham said...

April, this sounds like an effective exercise -- I will try it on some kids in the near future! And I look forward to reading this delightful poem again in Cricket! Love the tight buttons. :)

Laura Evans said...

Wow, April, I'm right at the zoo with you!

I've gotten lost in every foreign country I've visited: Japan, Mexico, Turkey, Jamaica, and the majority of United States.

Later, I found out it really helps if you can read a map.