Saturday, October 30, 2010

SPARK 10! Response - #214 - City Dahlias

Dahlia Soft Focus
Photo by Amy Souza

This dahlia photograph and poem were created through an online experience called SPARK.  On October 20, I received this beautiful inspiration photograph with the understanding that I would use it to spark a piece of writing and share my words today, October 29.  In return, I provided an inspiration piece too, my poem "Everynight Everywhere".  Tomorrow I will post Amy Souza's joyful response painting along with that poem. 

Students - this experience was very interesting, as a writer and as a responder.  I could not wait to see what my new-artist-friend would do with my poem or to see what words would meet this photograph.

Late last night, knowing SPARK's deadline loomed, our sweet Georgia (10) padded down the stairs.  "Mom, I have a poem for you," she said.  Then she spoke.  Then she hurriedly wrote.  Then she padded up the stairs.  How very lucky we are for the children in our lives.

In a city
on a street
there I grew a bud
round and sweet
the city's black
the city's cold
the city's dark
petals unfold
the light is weak
the city's gray
the flower blooms
here comes the day.

by Georgia VanDerwater

Your lovely photograph, Amy S., received two responses from the same home!

For me, the process of writing a poem is all about finding a way in.  It's as if the poems are already out there, and we just have to find the right key.  For this poem, the key was a few lines from someone else's poem, "Otho: The Miller's Son" by Laura Amy Schiltz in GOOD MASTERS!  SWEET LADIES!  I read this book for the first time last week, on the airplane on my way to Minneapolis.  This poem has not left, particularly the rhythms of these lines:

"Oh God makes the water, and the water makes the river,
And the river turns the mill wheel
and the wheel runs on forever."

If you look back to "City Dahlias", you will see which lines sound much the same.  I love the lulling sounds of repetition within these lines, and so began the poem with the words, "For the gate..." even though I knew they would not be the first lines.

If you have not read GOOD MASTERS! SWEET LADIES!, I cannot recommend it highly enough.  It is gorgeous poetry, woven word upon word like a tapestry of history.  Schiltz won the Newbery Award for this book in 2007, and it is easy to see why.  A librarian, she wrote these monologue poems for her students to perform.  The combination of perfect language, history tidbits, and meticulous illustration make this one to read again and again.  It is even available in audio, something I'd love to hear.

This SPARK experience makes me think about two possible things students might wish to try.  The first one, of course, is to write from a photograph.  It's great fun to use a photograph as inspiration.  Many times I pull over to the side of the road to shoot a picture of a barn, a tombstone (wait for Monday), a sunset, a building.  Writing from my own photos helps me appreciate the small beauties in my life and it gives me a chance to reflect upon them later with words.  You might wish to try this.

Writing from someone else's art is whole new thing for me, and it's something I think could be a wonderful experiment with a pair of friends or classmates or even two classes working together.  Even classes living far away from each other...vive la Internet!  My friend Karen and I were talking about this, imagining what teachers could try with such an idea.  If you take this on, anyone, please let me know.  It would be a real treat to see how children like SPARKing off of each other.  If you do, I would love to share your work and/or stories with my inspiration-partner and founder of SPARK, Amy Souza. 

I do have another SPARK inspiration-partner out there too...a mystery one.  S/he is artistically responding to one of my poems but did not provide an inspiration piece.  Over the next week, I hope to share three pairings with you, this being the first!

Thank you to poet and friend, Heidi Mordhorst, for sharing her anticipation of SPARK two weeks ago.  You can see Heidi's poem and Delores Ekberg's painting at Heidi's blog, my juicy little universe.  And thank you to Amy Souza for the great fun she provided with her photo, painting, and coordination of all of SPARK.

If you are interested in participating in SPARK 11 in February 2011, keep an eye on the SPARK website for an announcement.

(Please click on COMMENTS below to share a thought.)


  1. I was going to be first to comment on this post, but Toby has beat me to it! I thought I had seen your SPARK produce at the site, but now I see you took on three partners (true to prodigious form).

    Your discussion of how "Otho" echoed into your dahlia piece mirrors the way the artists' work sounds in our writing and is so INFORMATIVE for those who are asking writing process questions. Having Georgia's response to the same inspiration is helpful in the same way as a wine-tasting is a vastly educational experience: little sips of goodness so similar that, spread over time, fine distinctions are lost, but taken side by side, those distinctions are highlighted.

    I once did a major artist in residence project where it was the music teacher who hired me! I worked with 5th graders who wrote poems based on 3D artworks by 1st graders. The poems were then set to music by, I believe, the 3rd graders, and there was a big performance. Very cool indeed, to be a part of that. "Gazillipede" from Pumpkin Butterfly is one of the poems I wrote during that project about an intriguing many-legged painting.

    If you can possibly fit in one more thing, Amy, let's talk at NCTE about a critique exchange. "I think we could be very good together." : ) You too, Toby!

  2. Georgia,
    Your poem gave me goosebumps - I could just picture that little bud in the dark night, and then the city gets lighter and lighter and it blooms. You used few words, but used them so effectively. Beautiful.

    And Amy, as always, I loved your poetry response to the picture. I would like to try this with my students. We usually wait till April to do much poetry writing, but I don't think I can wait this year. Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. Toby, I could not get away from those lines of Laura Amy Schiltz...they are inescapable. Thank you for sharing those of Marchette Chute too. A.
    Heidi, I am so grateful to you for linking to SPARK. And what fun to hear about your similar work with music. The girls' violin teacher and I just talked about this last week - I think we are going to do something similar with student poetry in a nearby school. Thank you for your compliment to Georgia! And as for NCTE - yes! Please...let's meet for real! A.
    Mary Lee, I mean Miss Frizzle!, I just keep on thinking about you and those kids blogs. Isn't that funny? Thank you for your kind words to both of us here! A.
    Susan, Were your ears burning today? You were the point of another story I told to some teachers at NFRC today, poetry-related of course. Georgia simply beamed when she read your comment. And I hope you'll be back for another Poetry Peek! More on e-mail soon...I miss you! A.