Friday, April 16, 2010

Poetry Friday, "Poetry from the Soul", & #16

Right now, our son has a 'vacation mohawk', a long-wished-for and one-week haircut.  NaPoWriMo #16 is for all of those mohawk (and mohawk-hopeful) guys out there.  I hope you can read it.

 Vacation Haircut
Photo by Amy LV

Today I am honored to share Poetry from the Soul, produced by fifth grade teacher Kyle Leonard and his students Olivia Brumfield (poet) and Marcus Middleton (ukulele player) at Caledonia-Mumford Elementary in Caledonia, NY.  Kyle is an inspirational teacher who also runs a ukulele club after school, a club which includes most of the fifth grade class.  You can read all sorts of interesting things about the ukulele (I even learned how to spell the word) and hear Kyle's original music here at Ukulelear.  

Writing is power, and when we teach children and ourselves to use language with grace and strength, miracles reveal themselves.  How lucky we are as teachers, acting as midwives to words upon words.

Poetry from the Soul © Olivia Brumfield
Music by Marcus Middleton
Produced by Kyle Leonard

Olivia, Marcus, and Kyle were also generous enough to answer a few questions about their process in creating this work.

How did this project come about?

Kyle:  Each year I try to get student submissions for our BOCES Media Festival, and I knew that Marcus and Olivia had talents that could create something wonderful.  I didn't give them much time to put this video together.  My only input was to suggest they make a video with Marcus playing ukulele while Olivia read some of her poetry; the result was a pretty incredible collaboration.

Would you please tell a bit about how you wrote these poems?

Olivia:  The poems I write come from what I experience. It is a very creative process.  My inspiration is life.  I pay attention to the little things, like once I wrote about the color green.  It's easy to write about the big obvious stuff, but it's a real challenge to write about the little hard-to-see stuff.  Things you have to think about:
          1.  If you're going to rhyme.  I usually do.
          2.  Once you have your idea, what are you going to write?
          3.  Finally, why are you going to write about it?
                That's the challenge.

How did you revise and put your poems together for this video?

Olivia:  Making this magical video was a simple but rushed process.  First I had to get the poems from my writer's notebook.  Then we recorded me saying them with the ukulele in the background.  Then Marcus recorded the video.  After all that, Mr. Leonard's computer magic took over, and it became a success.

What are you writing right now?

Olivia:  At the moment I am writing plain poems.  Recently I wrote a chapter book called Green River.  I think you'd enjoy it.

What was it like to play music with someone's words? Did you play as Olivia read, or was this put together afterward?

Marcus: To play with Olivia's words was really easy because I've been practicing this song for months.  As strange as it is, the song fit perfectly with the words.  The song ended at a good spot.  The song is Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.  Originally Olivia was going to sing this song, but I think it all worked out perfectly.

What did you have to consider as you shot this video?  Do you have advice for others who might take on a similar project?

Marcus:  You'd think it would be pretty simple to sit on a cart, get pushed by your teacher, and hold a video camera.  Well, as you saw in the video, most of the time the video camera was mostly level.  That was because I kept my arm straight the whole time.  The part that really hurt my arm was when Olivia was writing in her notebook.  My friends and I like to skateboard, and I used to shoot videos of cool tricks, and I got really good at it.  So, one hint is not to make the camera bounce up and down when you walk with the camera.

Do you have plans for other such projects?  Advice for teachers who might wish to try this?

Kyle:  I think a lot of teachers are driven by the desire to create and learn, and there is always something new to learn when it comes to technology.  The free recording software, Audacity, is fun to play with and for podcasting.  I started with podcasting, and then found that Windows Media Maker allows one to upload audio into video - the birth of music videos in my classroom.
This video's combination of poetry and music is a powerful way of paying tribute to the talents that we find in all of our students.  It takes a couple hours to make a three minute video, so that tends to keep the production level low.  But you'll most likely get a gem in the process.

What one word best describes your goal as a teacher?  (Poetry is about economy of words, after all!)

Kyle:  Well, there is a well-known Yeats quote that says, "...Education is the lighting of a fire...", so I think my word would be 'enkindler'.  This word denotes the idea of lighting a spark that could lead others on to do greater things.  If I could do this for kids, I would feel very successful.

Thank you, Olivia.  Thank you, Marcus.  And thank you, Kyle.  What a true delight.

Teachers - please feel free to share any of your students' recent poetry projects with me here at The Poem Farm.  With permissions, I would be tickled to highlight them here on a future Poetry Friday.

Today's Poetry Friday is hosted by Jules at 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Here you will find posts, links, and all you could ever wish for caught in today's poetry web!

(Please click on COMMENTS below to share a thought.
If you've had trouble with this in the past, I think I fixed it!)


  1. i am kind of blown away by this video. The writing is fantastic, but equally as good is the way the poetry is read.

    Also got some useful tips on writing and creating videos. I can now think about publishing in a different way.


  2. 'Poetry from the soul' lives up to it's title. From her soul to mine! Absolutley awesome. The video is so cool. I thought it was going to be a slick ad for Apple or some big car just looks so warm and refreshing the way professional ad people create their emotionally evocative ads. The poem was super. She's really confident and her voice demands you keep listening. Loved it.

    I also loved the Mohawk poem and pic.

  3. I dabble in poetry and i am a musician myself and i feel like this is a really deep and good poem. i mean theres no way i could have written a poem like that when i was in 5th grade. and the way she broke down her writing process in the interview, i don't know if i could explain writing a poem that well now much less when i was in 5th grade. i think this girl has a gift and it's great that these people let her show it off in this collaborative way.

  4. ...A piece of art constructed in black and white with music and words that paint a colorful, vivid, and beautiful picture of your life/soul.

    Thank you for sharing, I am inspired. : )

  5. This video is great! I enjoyed it :)

  6. I enjoyed this video it was very inspirational!! Great job :)

  7. Lovely music to some assertive words. I liked the use of black and white. It adds a sense of authenticity to the work. Congratulations.

  8. Very inspiring! Thank you for sharing your talents with us.

  9. To see young people so invested in language and feelings (especially as they come together in a compelling visual representation) gives me hope. Thank You.


  10. It is an amazing thing to be Olivia's teacher. She was on the playground for recess today and needed a piece of paper because she had just thought of an awesome poem about people who say they can hear but who are actually deaf... I had a box from ice cream sandwiches and pencil and she produced another splendid poem on the box. She seems to just think about life in poetic terms.

    I will make sure she and Marcus get a chance to read these wonderful comments about their work.

    Thank you all,
    Kyle Leonard

  11. Thank you to all of you word lovers and child-lovers, poetry lovers and ukulele lovers who are leaving comments today. Our world is richer when we share our appreciation for strong writing and teaching work. Thank you tons for your thoughts!

  12. Amy,

    What a magnificent use of the arts: poetry, music, and teaching! Love it!

    Your CUTE poem is

    Laura Evans
    all things poetry

  13. Laura,

    You UP crack me

    Thank you for your note!


  14. Melanie Hope Greenberg You wanted a comment:) I love when kids go inside themselves and express in a positive way.
    Yesterday at 4:40pm · Report

    Maureen Hopkins Cassarino this was really a great way for kids to publish their work. thanks for sharing!!

  15. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  16. 'Oh golly, I am confused! "NaPoWriMo #16 is for all of those mohawk (and mohawk-hopeful) guys out there."

    I live in a house we 3 very militant females who would say that mohawks are not just for guys! They firmly believe that gender is just a social construct..... . To them I say, " Go ahead. Get a mohawk!

  17. Me too...go for it, women! That was a "guys" in the general sense of the word. Happy clipping!