KIDS: Jan Brennan Writing Lesson

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Visiting Artist - Jan Brennan
Writing Lesson
 If you are new to poetry, I congratulate you for reading this far. I promise that if you continue, you will not be sorry.  For those of you who already are poetry fans, you need no further enticing. Read on for some fun ways to play with poetry.

Pop, rock, country, hip hop . . . whatever type of music you prefer, they all have something in common. The lyrics without the melody are poetry. Yes, that’s right – poetry! Listen to one of your favorite songs. Now, strip away the tune and just say the words. Many times you’ll notice a nice rhyming pattern. But even if there’s no rhyme, there will be a certain rhythm or flow to the words. That’s poetry.
One of the best ways to slowly immerse yourself in poetry is to imitate something that you already like. You can do this with your favorite song or any poem that you may know and like. It’s called Inspired-by Poems. The end result is not a totally original poem so you must share the credit with the poet or songwriter who inspired you, but it’s a great way to get started.
All you do is write down the lyrics to a song you like or the words to a poem you know, then think of what you’d like to say. It can be about the same subject or something totally different. The advantage is that you’ve got the rhyming pattern or rhythm already in place for you.  You just have to inject your ideas.

There’s a great book, Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech, in which a boy who is very resistant to poetry learns to love it through inspired-by poems. He imitated a poem called “Love That Boy” by Walter Dean Myers. He changed it to be a poem about his dog. He used the same format but changed the words so that they made sense for his own situation.
Let’s try one together. Take a very simple tune such as “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”. Write down the words, then think of a subject that you’d like to write about. Plug your words into the melody, move things around a bit to make it all fit well, and you’ve got your first “Inspired-by Poem”. As a simple example, I wrote this one when my sons were little:
Brush, brush, brush your teeth,
Brush them left to right.
Clean away the food and grime
To keep them strong and white.
See how easy that is? Try some more and you’ll be amazed with your results!
Crayons or markers, pencils or pens. Whatever is your preferred method of drawing, gather up your supplies and prepare to draw whatever comes to mind. Sometimes it’s fun to have a subject in mind; other times you might just like to start drawing and see where your crayons take you. Once you’ve finished your artwork, look at it carefully. Not critically for its artistic analysis, but for the mood and feeling it gives you. What comes to mind? Why did you draw it? What words pop into your head? Write down single words or phrases. Brainstorm as large a list as you can. Then start playing with the words. Arrange them in ways that flow nicely and tell what you want the reader to know about the picture. Remember that with poetry, you want to use very specific words. You want to use words to paint as clear of a picture as the crayons did with color.
As an example, here is a poem that was inspired by a drawing of a first grader. After she drew her picture of a plate of cookies, I asked her to tell me words and phrases that came to mind. Her list included: chocolate chip, oreos, gingerbread, M&M, peanut butter, tasty, yummy, chocolate milk, makes me happy. From that we came up with the following poem.
Whenever I feel hungry or sad,
I always know what to do.
I grab a plate of yummy cookies
And munch on quite a few.
Chocolate chip or oreos,
Peanut butter, too.
Gingerbread or M&M’s
Are merely just a few
Of the tempting, tasty cookies
I love to have for snack,
With a glass of chocolate milk –
There’s nothing better than that!
Now it’s your turn. To review, these are the steps to follow:
  1. Draw something.
  2. Write a list of words and/or phrases that come to mind.
  3. Arrange and play with the words.
  4. Check the rhyme and/or rhythm (flow) and you’ve got a poem!

This type of poem has the special bonus of being able to create something with a friend. Follow the steps below and you’ll be proud of what you develop together.
  1. Think of a subject that you and your friend strongly disagree on.
  2. Make a Venn Diagram for the subject. In one circle write words and ideas that only you believe or feel; in the second circle have your friend write his/her words and ideas; in the center intersecting section write any ideas and words that you both agree on.
  3. Use these words to write your Side-by-Side poem. There will be three columns for your poem. On the left side you will write your ideas, on the right side your friend will write his/her ideas, and in the center you will write the ideas that you agree on.
  4. These poems can rhyme but if they don’t that’s OK. They work well either way, as long as there is a nice flow to the wording.
  5. When you read the poem together, you will read what you wrote on the left side by yourself; your friend will read what he/she wrote on the right side by him/herself; and you will read the center section together.
  6. A common pattern is to start off together, then state a few lines where you banter back and forth, then say a line together, return to the ping pong, back and forth format, then end up with a few lines together.
  7. Read the sample below to give you an idea of how to do this.
Poetry bores me
with confusing words.  
 Poetry soars
with beautiful words.
Poetry is hard to understand.
Poets share ideas
but never demand
you accept their thoughts.
That’s not what I thought. 
 But it’s true!
What a poem means is
mostly up to you.
Well, with that I can’t argue. 
  But what about writing one?
Rhyming’s hard and never fun.
You don’t have to rhyme
all the time, you know.
You can do the reverse and
just write free verse.
  But finding a subject is
always so hard.
Just look at your life,
your family, your yard;
ideas are there,
waiting everywhere;
you just need to look,
take a minute to care.
But writing a poem
takes way too long.
That’s partly right
and partly wrong.
When you use your 5 senses
your imagination flows.
Poems can emerge
faster than you know.
You can play with words,
say just how your feel
and when you are done
the feeling’s surreal.
That sounds pretty good.
Well, it certainly should!
It’s a great thing to do.
You should try it, too.
You know, I just might.
Well, have fun with
what you write!
I’m sure you noticed that there are not many lines that both people say together, but you can certainly add more of the “together lines” in yours.

Some possible subjects that you may wish to explore with your friends are:
Siblings    TV    Music  Homework
What makes you happy, sad, excited     Favorite foods    Favorite month or season  Hunting
Debate issues   Scary movies    Performing on stage  School uniforms
Substitutes    Favorite teams    Boss/employee Sun/moon 
 History – pick a Particular event
Getting up in the morning
  Opinions on particular books, movies, songs, actors   
All of the images, lessons and poems on these pages are used by permission of the author, Jan Brennan, and are protected under United States Copyright Laws. Any use or reproduction of these materials is prohibited without the permission of the author.


Content Last Modified on 8/8/2007 9:32:00 AM