Friday, September 10, 2010

Quick! What's a pivotal moment in your life? A back-to-school writing exercise and poems, of course!

Happy Poetry Friday! 
But first, Campers, make sure to enter our latest contest for classroom teachers/librarians/homeschooling groups! The prize? Win either a 30-minute Skype visit from a TeachingAuthor or a set of six autographed books—one from each TeachingAuthor!

Our current topic is getting-to-know-you exercises as this new school year begins.  ('s started already?!?)

Writing Workout: Back-to-School/Getting-To-Know-You Exercise

My niece, writer Julia Halprin Jackson, sent me a prompt which fits our topic.

Julia said Smith Magazine suggests writing about “a single moment which changed...(your) life in a profound way. Your “Moment” could be a decision you made, something you saw, a letter or email sent or received, a literal or mental discovery. The Moment can be serious or funny, dark or light.”

What an interesting way to get to know your students!

Okay, so here's the step-by-step:
1. Brainstorming. First, share a few of the pivotal moments in your own life.  To get your juices flowing, here are three of my Moments:
  • I remember when my father tried to pull a waterlily out of Ellis Lake so we could plant it at home...but try as he might, he couldn't break its strong root.  That was the moment I realized my father was human.  
  • I remember being on the phone with Shelley, my best friend; I remember the moment she stopped being my best friend.  
  • And I remember when Great Aunt Genia was astonished I didn't know how to wash the spaghetti sauce stain from my shirt.  At that moment I realized I was capable of doing more than my mother asked me to do.
2. Brainstorm as a group, list possible pivotal moments on the board.
3. Have each student make his or her own list of pivotal moments. 
4. Have them select the one they'd like to write about.
5. Write a poem, a story or an essay about that moment.

I ended up with several versions of one pivotal moment in my life: a Long version, a Tanka (syllable count: 5/7/5/7/7), and a Six-Word version. 

So, Campers, let me know: do any of these work?  Which do you like best? 

This is the first one I wrote.  You know that Mark Twain quote: "I didn't have time to write a short letter so I wrote a long letter instead."  So true!  I always need to tell the whole dang story first.  This is a simple poetic form called an Envelope Poem.  An Envelope Poem simply begins and ends with the same line or lines.  This form is sometimes called a Circular Poem.

by April Halprin Wayland

I love Uncle Ruthie Buell.
I love her weekly radio program, HALFWAY DOWN THE STAIRS,

which has been around for…forever.
So I went to her music-and-storytelling concert.

I waited in line…and waited in line…

and waited in line…
for her to sign her album.

When I got to the front,
I told her I had written a story.

 “Send it to me!”
Uncle Ruthie said this!

So that night I rewrote it
and rewrote it and rewrote it.

I printed it out and carefully tucked it into an envelope.
I decorated her name with purple and green stars.

Then I sent her my story.
I sent my story to Uncle Ruthie.

A week later she called me.
Uncle Ruthie called me!

Even though she couldn’t see me,
I put down my toast,

wiped raspberry jam from the corner of my mouth,
sat up straighter.  

I mean, this was Uncle Ruthie.
Calling me.

“I love your story,” She said.
Uncle Ruthie said she loved my story!

And then she said,
“May I read it on the air?”

She wanted to read my story on the radio.

I love
Uncle Ruthie Buell.


by April Halprin Wayland

Uncle Ruthie phones.
“May I read your story on
my radio show?”
Uncle Ruthie just sang me
a beautiful song called YES.

by April Halprin Wayland

Don’t wake me, I am famous!

If you try this with students, let me know if you needed to change it to make it appropriate for their ages.

But, of course, this Writers Workout is not just for your students.  It’s your turn to write about a pivotal moment in your life.  Surprise yourself!  Remember to breathe …and to write with joy.

poems and drawings © by April Halprin Wayland


Carmela Martino said...

April, these are all great. I especially love the line:
"a beautiful song called YES."

April Halprin Wayland said...

Thank you, Carmela!

BJ Lee said...

April - I loved this exercise. The tanka was so much more powerful than the prose. poetry is powerful! loved it.

BJ Lee

April Halprin Wayland said...

Thank you, BJ. I do like playing with the tanka form!