Friday, February 26, 2010

Question Poems for Poetry Friday

Dear Followers of Teaching Authors,

Happy Poetry Friday!

I need your help.

I have been an instructor with UCLA Extension's Writing Program for ten years.  I adore teaching there, love the students, love the challenges.  Following the example of master teacher Myra Cohn Livingston (with whom I studied for twelve years), I am a big believer in homework for adult learners. Lots of it. I've found that the more work they do and the less dancing-on-a-table-top-in-the-front-of the-classroom I do, the better the teacher they think I am.

In Myra's Master Class, we basically shoved the rest of our lives aside for ten weeks to write poetry for children.  Myra taught so many now well-known children's poets, I call her the Johnny Appleseed of children's poetry.  My classmates including Monica Gunning, Janet S.Wong, Alice Schertle, Ann Whitford Paul, Tony Johnston, Joan Bransfield Graham, Madeleine Comora, Ruth Lercher Bornstein, Sonya Sones and many others.

Sometimes, though, critiquing each student's story every week wears me down.  (Can you relate?)  It's a fine line between thoroughly critiquing each story in order to help the author get it into shape...and spending more time critiquing it than the author spent writing it.

I don't know how you teachers with six classes a day, thirty students per class do it.  I think you may be magicians.

I wanted to change my universe.  I wanted the playfulness back in teaching.  So I proposed a new class.  It was accepted and I'll be teaching it this summer (yippee!). Here’s a draft of the course description:

Chockful of short and longer in-class writing exercises, this workshop is designed especially for children's picture book writers.  By focusing on recurring subjects such as Tell the Truth, Less is More, Quote-Unquote, and The Power of Observation, you have the time and creative space to delve into a range of fresh approaches to these universal themes as you engage in stimulating writing exercises and constructive give-and-take with your instructor and peers.  In addition to inspiring new work and points of view on it, this workshop loosens up your tight fists, unwrinkles your worried brow, and reminds you how satisfying and fun writing can be.   All writing and critiquing is performed in class; students are given the opportunity to read their work aloud if they wish.  Enrollment limit:  20 students

NO HOMEWORK for me OR for the students!  Doesn't that sound great?

Each of the six classes is three hours long, so I’m collecting fun, inspiring writing exercises.

Of course there are wonderful books that include all sorts of writing exercises.  Among them: Ann Whitford Paul's terrific WRITING PICTURE BOOKS (see Teaching Author Esther Hershenhorn's review of this book), Natalie Goldberg's WILD MIND--Living the Writer's Life, and my friend Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge's wonderful POEMCRAZY.

Here's where you come in.  Do you have a favorite writing exercise (or book of writing exercises) to recommend that would be particularly useful to picture book writers?  The catch?  I'm especially interested in exercises that make you get up and move…

or go outside…

or use a prop…

or use a book you wouldn’t ordinarily use.  Exercises that use other postures and modalities beside sitting at a desk staring at a blank page.  Ideas employing music or meditation, physical movement, complete silence, blindfolds and squishy things to touch…weird out-of-the-box stuff.

You get the picture.

If you do, I'd love to hear from you.  And I'll be forever in your debt.

                                                                    Cross my heart.

 Writing Workout: Writing a
Question Poem

 Poet and author Sonya Sones sometimes writes poems in which every sentence is a question.  These always inspire me.  They have a brightness; a special energy.

I  know, I know…that isn’t exactly getting students up out of their chairs.  But maybe if they are asked to use a rhyming dictionary as they write this poem or story....maybe that would give this exercise a twist.

I took a stab at it.  I had a blast using my rhyming dictionary.  I was shooting rhymes at it with a machine gun. So here’s my very, very, very rough draft:

very rough draft by April Halprin Wayland

Are you going to make your bed?

     Who said?

Are you going to make your bed so that pillows and sheets aren’t exploding all over our room?

     You mean this fantastic sonic boom?

Are you going to make it before we eat monkey bread and jam?

     Who do you think I am?

Are you going to make it so we can lie down with Cat, flat?

     What made you think of that?

Are you going to make it to show Mick this morning?

     Is that a warning?

Are you going to make your bed instead of galloping goats over those blanket canyons?

     Me and which companions?

Yoooo—hoooooo?  Are you?

     Am I what?

Tut, tut…
     ARE YOU
          GOING TO

     Who put that idea in your head?

Now try writing your own messy, imperfect rough draft Question Poem (or Question Story)! 

And always--write with joy.

all drawings © by April Halprin Wayland


Carmela Martino said...

Hi April,
I love the idea of exercises that require you to move or go outside. Some of my favorite exercises are in FINDING YOUR WRITER'S VOICE by Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall. They suggest some interesting rituals (some requiring props) in their section on "Rituals for Cultivating Voice." I haven't looked at the book in a long time, but I think one exercise had you singing something you'd written.
Good luck with the class! And thanks for sharing the Questions poem--it looks awfully polished for a "rough" draft.

April Halprin Wayland said...

Thanks for the suggestion, Carmela--really appreciate it.

Tabatha said...

Bruce Van Patter has a ton of ideas he calls Creative Writing Sparks:

Take a look!

Doraine said...

Am I drooling?
Do I wish that I were tooling
'cross the country for your class?
Do you have to ask?

Caroline McAlister said...

I took a class on writing for children from Ruth Moose at Chapel Hill's extension program. She gave us each a large sheet of white paper and asked us to sketch the house and neighborhood we grew up in. This act of sketching helped us access memories about our childhoods from which to generate stories. I have used the exercise to good effect in classes I have taught at UNCG. Another option is to sketch the room layout of the house you grew up in and then tell a story about something that happened in one of the rooms.
In Peace,
Caroline McAlister
Author of
Holy Mole!
Brave Donatella and the Jasmine Thief

April Halprin Wayland said...

Thanks so much, Tabatha--I took a look at Bruce Van Patter's pages and especially like the idea of creating weird headlines. I could see bringing in newspapers and having students cut up words to make weird headlines...maybe putting them into a bowl and having them pick one to write about.

And Caroline--having them draw sounds good, too. It rings a bell somewhere in my brain...who did I hear did this before? Anyway, great suggestion. I wonder what else I could have them draw...?