Tuesday, May 14, 2013

WWW: Holly Thompson's Poetry with a Plot!

Today’s Wednesday Writing Workout comes from Holly Thompsona fellow TeachingAuthor, just in time to celebrate yesterday’s Delacorte/Random House release of her second young adult novel in verse, The Languge Inside.

The novel tells the story of Emma Karas “who was raised in Japan; it’s the country she calls home.  But when her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, Emma’s family moves to a town outside Lowell, Massachusetts, to stay with Emma’s grandmother while her mom undergoes treatment.

Emma feels out of place in the United States. She begins to have migraines, and longs to be back in Japan. At her grandmother's urging, she volunteers in a long-term care center to help Zena, a patient with locked-in syndrome, write down her poems. There, Emma meets Samnang, another volunteer, who assists elderly Cambodian refugees. Weekly visits to the care center, Zena's poems, dance, and noodle soup bring Emma and Samnang closer, until Emma must make a painful choice: stay in Massachusetts, or return home early to Japan.”

The starred School Library Journal review called the novel “a sensitive and compelling read that will inspire teens to contemplate how they can make a difference.”

Kirkus described the novel as “an artistic picture of devastation, fragility, bonds and choices.”

The Horn Book Magazine remarked that “readers will finish the book knowing that, like Zena, the Cambodian refugees, and the tsunami victims, Emma has the strength to ‘a hundred times fall down / a hundred and one times get up.’”

 Many TeachingAuthors readers met Holly in 2011 when my March 16 Student Success Story interview celebrated the release of her first young adult novel in verse, Orchards.

Orchards went on to win the APALA Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature.

Raised in Massachusetts, Holly earned a B.A. in biology from Mount Holyoke College and an M.A. in English (concentration creative writing/fiction) from New York University’s Creative Writing Program. A longtime resident of Japan, Holly teaches creative writing at Yokohama City University and also serves as Regional Advisor for the Japan Chapter of SCBWI.  Holly’s fiction often relates to Japan and Asia.

Congratulations, Holly, on yet another successful book!

And, thank you for sharing your expertise with our TeachingAuthors readers – who happen to have only until Sunday, May 19 to enter our TeachingAuthors Blogiversary Giveaway!

Click here to enter – if you haven’t already – the raffle to win one of 4 $25 Anderson’s Bookshop Gift Certificates.

Esther Hershenhorn

Click here to read about Holly's Tuesday's Birthday Launch of
The Language Inside while she was visiting Korea.

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Holly Thompson’s Wednesday Writing Workout: Poetry with a Plot

When I do author school visits, I love to introduce students to narrative poems and narrative verse and get them started on writing their own. You can write and/or teach this type of poetry, too – poetry I call “Poetry with a Plot.”


1. Gather some narrative poems—poems that tell a story—to share with students. Examples are Gary Soto’s Oranges,” Jeffrey Harrison’s “Our Other Sister,” Naomi Shihab Nye’s “My Father and theFig Tree,” and “Fifteen” or  Traveling Through The Dark,” by William Stafford, and my poem “Cod” (published in PoetryFriday Anthology Middle School

2. Also gather some verse novels. Select one scene to share with students. Choose a scene that has a fairly clear beginning, middle and end. Chapter 22, Visitors, of my novel Orchards is an example of a scene in verse with a clear plot arc.

3. Create a list of situations to share with students. Here are a few examples of some situations that I like to use:

a mistake
a decision
a first time
a last time
a betrayal
an encounter
an argument
a mix-up
a lie

With the students:

1. Read the narrative poems aloud. For each narrative poem, ask students to react. Ask: What lines or stanzas do you like? Why? What is the mini plot of the poem—what happens in this poem? Then have them look at the structure and style of the poem. Ask: Do the structure and style help create the narrative? How?

2. Read aloud a scene from a verse novel. Ask students to react. Ask: What lines or stanzas do you like? What lines move you? What lines are powerful? Where did your breath catch? Where did the pace pick up or slow down? Why? What is the basic plot arc of the scene? Did any action happen off the page? How did the writer structure the scene and create tension—with repetition, white space, short lines, long lines, particular images, or sounds and rhythms?

3. Next, give students your list of situations. Have students brainstorm examples of the various types of situations. Students will then choose one type of situation from which to create a narrative poem or scene in verse. Point out, for example, that “Oranges” can be considered a first time poem; “Our Other Sister” a lie poem; “Fifteen” and “Traveling Through the Dark” decision poems; and “Cod” a betrayal poem. Chapter 22 in Orchards might be considered an encounter scene. Tell students they can start from a true situation, or partially fictionalize a situation, or veer away from actual truth to completely fictionalize a situation.

4. After students create first drafts of their narrative poems or scenes, have them work at revising, individually and in peer workshops, checking for the narrative arc, details, poetic elements, line breaks and spacing.

5. Finally when students have polished their work, have students read, perform, create multimedia presentations, publish in zines or submit their narrative poems or scenes in verse to school magazines.

 Be prepared to be amazed! Good luck and let me know if you try this approach to introducing narrative poems and and narrative verse.

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Carmela Martino said...

Congratulations on the release of your new book, Holly. It sounds like a terrific read. And thanks so much for sharing this wonderful writing workout. I look forward to trying it with my students.

Margaret Simon said...

Verse novels seem to be in the forefront these days. I am looking forward to reading this new one.
I saved the writing idea to use this summer in a writing camp. Thanks.

April Halprin Wayland said...

Thank you for keeping up up-to-date on Holly, Esther--I LOVED Orchards--and what a wonderful exercise.

I can see using this exercise straight "out of the box" in poetry workshops. I can also see how I could use the bones of the exercise and modify it for prose workshops.

Esther Hershenhorn said...

Glad you found Holly's WWW helpful, Margaret.
Verse novels can be so tricky but Holly makes them easy to take in.

HATBOOKS Author Holly Thompson said...

Thank you, Esther, for sharing this. I just returned from Jeju, Korea, where I worked with international school students using this lesson. There were some incredible drafts growing on their laptops!

Buffy Silverman said...

Great lesson plan! Thanks for sharing it, and for the interview Esther.

Ruth said...

I put this one on my wish list. Thank you!