Friday, March 16, 2012

Imaginary Places & Memoir Poetry Peek


Do I Know Her?
by Amy LV

Students - This poem is about an imaginary place. For a while now, I have been writing poems about all sorts of imaginary places, and this make believe theatre is one of my favorites. I like the idea of a place where you could watch your whole life unfold. Would I choose to watch my life before living it? Probably not. But I still like the idea.

In case you do not know the expression, déjà vu means already seen in French. It's that feeling, the feeling that you've already done something. You can read a bit about déjà vu here at HowStuffWorks, but you will see that it is still a bit mysterious for everybody.

What places do you imagine might exist in the hidden worlds of fantasy? I will one day visit the Mountain of Lost Socks to find that favorite green wool one I lost. And I can't wait to see the drawer where milkweed seeds keep all of our wishes! Think about your life. What places do you want to exist? Then...give them existence in your writing!

Today I am so pleased to host literacy coach Linda Baie along with three of her student poets. Linda has kept journals for most of her life, and she has written many poems and prose pieces just because she loves to write. Linda blogs beautifully and informatively over at TeacherDance, and she says that blogging has helped her to think more about her writing as reading others' work gives her new ideas and new learning along with new friends. Below, you can read about how Linda and her students studied memoir and wrote poetry together.

I'm teaching students how to write memoir,
to write their lines, a knit of who they are,
with tiny rows that knit one, then pearl two
in colorful skeins of yarn. They can do
a word or more, sew them all together.
Lay the pattern well, it really doesn't matter
what they choose as long as some truth weaves part
and most that's kept comes finally from the heart.
                                                                Linda Baie

I am a former middle school teacher and current literacy coach at an independent school working with teachers from mostly from third through eighth grade. Sometimes I fill a gap that a teacher wants filled, and the following poems are a result of one of those gaps. This particular teacher of the oldest students wanted to give them some different writing experiences, and so I taught a small group in memoir writing.

We began by talking about the difference between a memoir and a personal narrative, and I gave each a packet of mentor texts to read. Some of these pieces included poems, which I wrote about on my blog here, and some were picture books such as Cynthia Rylant's WHEN I WAS YOUNG IN THE MOUNTAINS and WHEN THE RELATIVES CAME, Jane Yolen's OWL MOON, and Patricia MacLachlan's WHAT YOU KNOW FIRST. Each student also took a longer chapter book to read some chapters between the weekly meetings. These books included WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE V.2: ORIGINAL STORIES ABOUT GROWING UP ed. by Amy Erlich, MARSHFIELD DREAMS by Ralph Fletcher, THE GIRL FROM YAMHILL by Beverly Cleary, WORD AFTER WORD AFTER WORD by Patricia MacLachlan, and HEY WORLD, HERE I AM by Jean Little.

We began by talking and reminiscing about earliest memories: reading memories, special places, recent memories, favorite toys, and so on. The main questions answered in our discussions were: why was this toy special, what does this place mean, when did a memory stick in the mind as important and why? As everyone shared, others' memories were jogged, and then more stories emerged. In other words, the students learned to find the 'so what' of a memory. We talked about writing just enough to take someone into that memory only, and no more. We only met five times.

You should know that these students write a lot, in many genres, and have quite a bit of writing experience. My goal was to show them a new idea about writing words of personal importance, and to work on their sentences and revisions as much as possible. We looked at beginnings of sentences and length of sentences, hooks at the beginning and wrapping-it-up-with-wise-words endings. And we talked about the possibility of turning the words into poems if they chose that way to share their memoir. At almost the last meeting, I gave one final lesson that I describe here, and sent them off to finish their work. On the last day we shared and commented. They were off to other writing, other work. Here are poems that three students chose to write as part of their memoirs:

My Life Through Fish
by Ally

All of my fish have been dear to me
Eggbert was given to me by my brother one summer
I had him for the longest time
we became close
one day he became sick and pale

He would not eat
Or swim
So we called a vet
They said there was not much we could do
I reluctantly left for school the next day
When I returned he was okay

My brother
Can't keep a secret
Not for anything

Eggbert died
They replaced him
And I know they love me...

The Homecoming
prose poem by Bella

My hands were shaking and my feet were shifting restlessly. The airport was buzzing with noise of people coming and going. It had been six weeks since I had last seen her. In my shaking hands I held a small chocolate that I planned on giving to her since she hadn't been able to eat any in several weeks.

The first returning girl from Amigos slowly came up the escalator and flew into their parents' arms, a few more came through the entrance and then there she was. My breath caught in my throat and I screamed out her name, "Chiara!" I couldn't help myself. I flew into her arms as fast as I could, still in shock that she was really here. I handed her the chocolate as Mom and Dad came and gave her welcome home hugs.

We walked through DIA and I can't remember exactly what she told us, but what I do remember is that I felt left behind. For the next three hours Kiwi talked about her family in Honduras, how she would have done anything not to leave, and that night I cried and cried thinking that she loved them more than she loved us. I had spent six weeks waiting for her and she didn't even want to be here.

Slowly, Chiara adjusted to life here in Colorado again and became more herself, but the whole experience made me realize that she didn't love us any less. Her heart had just grown a little bit, filling the world with a little more love.

My Grandmother's House
by Sophie

The chairs are well worn and when I sit I sink in
The kitchen is always filled with the scent of her cooking
My grandfather sits reading
Cousins laugh and play around me
I help my grandmother cook and care for them
It is small and cozy
My memories fill each room when I walk in
The place where my little cousin's face was painted
The guest room where Eli and I slept when we spent the night
The rules of Camp Grandma still on the refrigerator
The toys that have been passed down from one grandchild to the next
Moses her dog jumps on me
Laughter and play fills the air
I love my grandmother's house
I could sit in the well-worn grey chairs for hours.

Many thanks to teacher Linda, Ally, Bella, and Sophie a for sharing here today! Students - please let us know if you write some memoir poems inspired by these. I have a feeling that I will.

If you're in the mood for madness, visit Ed DeCaria's blog, Think Kid, Think! for the first March Madness of children's poetry.  It's a big ol' tournament, and we're finishing the first round.  You can vote for poems that you like best, and send them to the second round.  I had a ton of fun writing my poem and am so enjoying reading all of the clever poems that others have written.  All poems are appropriate for classroom and family, so feel free to stop by with child or grownup friends and vote!

Today Greg announces this year's 30 Poets/30 Days.  I am thrilled to have been asked to participate this year and once again, look forward to reading the new poems and learning about so many writers.  Greg is hosting Poetry Friday today too, so head on over to GottaBook to check out today's poetry around the Kidlitosphere.  Thank you, Greg!

Please share a comment below if you wish!
You can like The Poem Farm on Facebook for more poem love...


  1. My favorite post so far, simply because I love Linda and her blog (and her passion in teaching) and moments of dejavu. ;-) So great to read poems by talented young poets.

  2. Hi, Amy. You know I'm a sucker for any poems that incorporates knitting! I also like "My Grandmother's House." I'm getting ready to do food/memory poems with fifth graders. This poem has that kind of focused image/memory feel. Great job, Sophie!

  3. Enjoyed this post so much! Great to see the students' work. The goldfish poem caught me by surprise, and I could see my own grandmother's house in that last poem.

  4. Congratulations to these fine young poets! And many thanks, Amy, and many thanks, Linda, for sharing this terrific post today. It's wonderful that these students have been encouraged to stop and consider their own stories - and then given a way to express them.

  5. Great post! I love your explanation for deja vu!

  6. Thanks for sharing these young poets with us today! I enjoyed reading their work.

  7. Amy, Thank you everyone for your lovely comments. And thank you for inviting me to visit today, Amy. Like all your poems, I enjoyed this one today & the possibility of finding things that are stored in secret places, about our life and wishes as you said. Deja vu is an interesting concept and always shivery when it happens to me. You give such good ideas to explore!

  8. Love your poem! And I do so want to go back in time and have Linda as my teacher!

  9. Excellent job Linda and Amy as well. As for you students Uncle Charles is PROUD of you.