Many teachers will already know the George Ella Lyon list-form poem “Where I’m From.” As Mr. Lyon writes, “People have used it at their family reunions, teachers have used it with children all over the United States, in Ecuador and China; they have taken it to girls in juvenile detention, to men in prison for life, and to refugees in a camp in the Sudan.”
To take the notion of writing poems about place further, you might show students how your local area has inspired work from various artists, the way Hartford, Conn., inspired Wallace Stevens. Then, invite them to write poems about a place they remember from their own lives, or give them a common place to consider, like the school or the town park. Finally, plan a site-specific celebration, like a reading or poetry walk in the area, or poems projected on structures, written in chalk on sidewalks or otherwise displayed. You might also collaborate with dancers, musicians and visual artists to perform or present their related work at the event.
Or post poems in unexpected places the way David Ellis does with his “driftwood haiku”:
A German shepherd tied to a rusted gate, blackfish simmered with tomatoes on a grill, a scuba diver emerging from the waters of the Bronx: These are the scenes that inspire the poetry of Mr. Ellis, the self-proclaimed Bard of City Island. He composes haiku on seashells and driftwood about the daily serendipity of the mile-and-a-half-long island, leaving them around the neighborhood for people, like the woman who reads his poems every morning when she walks her dog. His works by him, locals say, add unexpected reflection to their day. Last January, Mr. Ellis self-published a book of haiku called “Beach in City Island,” and he is now working on a children’s edition, which his [6-year-old] son is illustrating.
For example, students might leave poems around your school—perhaps inspired by these subway poets. Ask students to choose poems they have studied in school or elsewhere (or their own original works), then print and tape them to cafeteria tables, bathroom mirrors or hallway walls, or even write them in chalk on the sidewalks. How do people respond? What can you learn from that?
You might show students the Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk project in St. Paul or the Poetry in Motion program in the New York City subway for an idea of what kinds of poems work well as public pieces.
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