Friday, July 29, 2011

Put on your mask: I've found the KEY to Poetry Friday!

Happy Poetry Friday--see my poem and poetry exercise below!  
Today's Poetry Friday is hosted by Kate Coombs at Book Aunt 
thanks, Kate!

I am writing this as we wait in the airport for our return flight from our summer vacation in...Fiji!  The best part of this time away from our real lives was the incredible beauty...and slooooowing down.  No internet. No texting.  No telephone.  No multitasking.  I woke up and made my bed without turning on NPR.  I poured hot water over ground coffee beans without simultaneously calling my mother to see how she was feeling.

I'm embarrassed to say that at first it was hard to have fun, even though, intellectually, I knew that lying on the deck of Bruce Balan's trimaran was fun...snorkeling was fun, being with my family was fun.

It took a few days to wipe the seriousness, the purposefulness, the To-Do list from my brain.  And then, one day, I was there.  I was snorkeling in turquoise water over neon tetras and parrot fish and all the fish you see in those wonder-filled tanks at the pet store. I was hiking to the waterfall slides on a red dirt trail.  I was biting into an orange paw paw (papaya), or a passion fruit, or a soursop (which looks like a prickly green dinosaur egg and tastes heavenly--sort of strawberry-pineapple-sour-citrus-creamy-banana-y.)
A man biting into a yummy soursop.

I devoured a mystery series, gobbling each book like potato chips.  I wrote a poem each day, as always.

So let's keep summer's sense of fun in our writing.  Let's pass it on to our students.  I'm teaching my summer class at UCLA Extension again.  It's the one I call my no-homework-for-the-students-no-homework-for-the-teacher class...but its official title is: The Children's Picture Book Writers' Bag of Tricks: A Six-Week Workshop.  The key to this class is to create writing games and prompts which get these adult students out of their chairs, doing spirited hands-on activities before they settle down to write.

WRITING WORKOUT ~ Here's an ice-breaker writing exercise I use in the first class.

  • Collect keys.  Keys of all kinds—house keys, hotel card keys, skeleton keys, car keys, skate keys (remember those?), boat keys, storage shed keys, jewelry box and diary keys.
  • If you're a teacher and don't have a stash of keys, ask each student to bring in at least one key they are willing to give away.
  • Make sure you bring more keys than there are students in your class so that they have a wide selection.
  • Before the students come into the room, lay out all the keys on a table, then cover them with a cloth.
  • When the students are at their desks, ask them to take out paper and pens or pencils. Then tell them that writers often need to settle down before they write.  I call this “circling the chair” time. Some people might clean out a desk drawer or answer email. Some meditate or exercise or pay bills.  Have your students do this simple breathing exercise:

Close your eyes.  Take a deep breath.  Let it out.  Relax your forehead. Breathe. Relax your eyebrows. Relax your jaw. Relax your neck. Relax your shoulders. Relax your arms. Relax your wrists. Relax each finger. Relax your spine, one vertebrae at a time. Relax your stomach.  Relax your legs. Relax your ankles. Relax your feet. Relax each toe.  Breathe. Slowly come back to awareness.

  • Now, let them come up to the table and choose one key to bring back to their desk.
  • Say: Hold your key in your hand.  Feel its weight.  Look closely at it, turning it over, feeling the edges and ends.  Holding the key in your hands, close your eyes.   Ask this key to tell you its story. What did it open?  An old house?  A treasure chest? The door of a room?  A boat?  A car?  A hotel?  What's inside? Whose key was it? An adult? A child? An animal? Someone who lives under water? Someone from another country? From another planet?
  •  Slowly open your eyes.  Pick up your pen and begin a story or a poem about this key.

Here's a poem I wrote about a key, from the key's point of view.  Myra Cohn Livingston, in her terrific book, Poem-Making, writes:  "This aspect of the dramatic voice is what I think of as mask or persona.  It is a though we put on the face or body of someone or something else and tell about ourselves through our words.  Lilian Moore puts on a mask--or a persona--to write "Message to a Caterpillar." (For an absolutely fabulous post on mask poems with great examples, see Elaine Magliaro's Wild Rose Reader.)

by April Halprin Wayland

I'll give you a clue:
Do you like seafood stew?
From your home do you yearn
to be starboard or stern?

Are your parents concerned
that you always return
to the song of the sea?
Are you searching for me?

With a crew and two sails
and the help of a breeze
we will pass humpback whales
we will sail seven seas!

I will go where I please
I'm the king of all keys—
I'm a sailboat key
come and journey with me!

Note: I emailed Bruce (he's actually uses something called "sailmail") asking if he uses any keys in his trimaran.  I mean, if you think about it, on a windy day why would you need a key?  His wife, Alene, answered, saying, "Yes, we have all kinds of keys on the boat. One to start the diesel engine, one for the outboard, and keys to lock our doors.  Bruce also has keys on his concertina, even!"  Ha ha, Alene.
Bruce on his trimaran, Migration, named after his picture book, 
The Cherry Migration.  Note the cherries.

And one more wonderfu, summery thing: Be sure to enter our latest book giveaway--for Allan Woodrow's debut novel, The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless!  You can make-up your villain name and comment on the interview (URL below) or email your comments by August 3rd.  Details:

poem and trimaran photo (c) 2011 April Halprin Wayland, all rights reserved


Clara Gillow Clark said...

What a great writing prompt for kids and for adults! I use a similar one with boxes, because, well, I have a lot of small boxes that suggest very different personalities. Hope you won't mind if I add keys to go along with my boxes.

Author Amok said...

Great exercise, April. I can't wait to try it myself and bring it with me into the classroom.

April Halprin Wayland said...

It really is a great exercise, Clara and Laura. And it was my college son who suggested I ask students to bring in keys if I didn't have enough (but I did--I had his old key collection!)

Rasco from RIF said...

Thank you for the wonderful exercise, I can use this when I visit classrooms as well as with the RIF staff! And thank you for sharing your vacation with us...lovely!

Carmela Martino said...

Welcome back, April! I love this key exercise and will definitely give it a try with my next class. I happen to have a number of keys lying around that no one knows what they belong to. :-)

Myra Garces-Bacsal from GatheringBooks said...

This is a lovely exercise that I can share with my teacher-students here in Singapore. The prompts are bound to produce .. interesting results. =) The poem you shared is lovely too. =)

April Halprin Wayland said...

Wow--so glad you hope to use this exercise in your classrooms, Rasco, Carmela and Myra! Do let us know how it works, and if you get any poetic gems, please share them!