Upon returning to my classes after the Imagining America conference, I was compelled to try some small version of community-generated poetry with my ENGL 201 Introduction to Poetry class. They were game!
I provided the students with very simple prompts around two different subjects: America and Poetry. The prompts were: “America is…” and a charge to attempt an acrostic with the word AMERICA (an acrostic is a poem with each line beginning with each subsequent letter of the given word); and “Poetry is…” and an acrostic with POETRY.
Some example student responses:
“America is like the gusts of wind that beat the life from its flags on a stormy night”
“America is like a lake, full of bright fish and rippling anger, slow to change.”
“America is like alternating between a hot tub and a cold lake. There is no middle ground. You are either inside or outside your comfort zone.”
“America is like a mirage; a beautiful dream to everyone on the outside looking in, and nothing but a muddy puddle of rainwater to the discontent on the inside looking out.”
“America is like an empty beach in calm waters, open to the prospect of development and recreation.”
“America is like a moody teenager always pushing away the adults but still asking for dinner.”
“America is like those who once thought the sun revolved around the Earth.”
Everyone no harm
A home for exactly that
Arguably the best country in the world
Mounting medical costs
Every man for himself
Run by white men
Immigration (some restrictions may apply)
Carried on the backs of the marginalized
“Poetry is words at your fingertips, screaming to be put on paper.”
“Poetry is another door to be opened, & behind that door its own experiences wait.”
“Poetry is both a flying and flightless bird.”
“Poetry is a park in the walk.”
“Poetry is a cruel mistress sneaking into your dreams…inspiration always gone by morning. Taking flight before you can show anyone the evidence, before you can prove you are the poet you see in your dreams.”
“Poetry is life. It sounds cliché but clichés are poetry too.”
“Poetry is playing the game. It’s the pawn and sometimes even the excused rules…”
Playing with words
On a language jungle gym
Everyone involved neglects reality
Time travel is possible
Rhyming rules the rhetoric
Young at heart are those who play
People float through stanzas
Opulence of words
Epigraph for meaning
Though always inexplicable
Rekindle old feelings
Years were lost, but always there
Opening of the
Below are the two poems I collaged from the students’ responses (it was way too much fun!). On a day where the students shared some of their own writing, I gave them the poems I had written from their words on a document I titled: “Your Words/My Weaving”:
America Is America is a contradiction. Arrogance + ignorance like those who once thought the sun revolved around the earth. A meddling klutz who means well, but falls in the pool just dipping its toes in. A moody teenager pushing away the adults, but still asking for dinner. A pep squad: shouting, shouting, shouting tossing each other in the air, smiling through a pulled muscle. America is the gusting wind fraying its own flag. A dog snapping and barking to be loved. The shock of a cold lake full of bright fish after a hot tub of rippling anger. Apathy catcalls empathy. An illness chokes America, rectangular like money. Always open to the prospect of development, merchandise everlasting absolved of accountability. America is a mirage, ephemeral as a cloud floating away blocking the sun even as it evaporates.
Poetry Is Poetry is a park in the walk playing with words on a language jungle gym. Parades of flying and flightless birds riding a free breeze purposefully overlooking excused rules. Poetry sneaks into your dreams through the open door to gaze upon the poet you are there and steal the opulence of words screaming from your fingertips. Poetry allows reconciliation and yielding, room to pretend and play with cliché. Years are lost but always there. Everyone involved neglects reality, time travel is possible.
I did not conduct or plan for any formal feedback on this experience – I wish I had! However, I do have the student reflections on the overall course (ENGL 201 Introduction to Poetry), written on the last day of class. In those, several students wrote about the strong feelings of connection forged through experiencing poetry together. I hope the community-generated poetry experience, specifically, was part of that overall feeling – I know it left me with a lasting connection to this group of students who were game to give this new thing a try with me.
What Did I Learn?
What I learned from this first community-generated poetry experiment was how creative our students are, how quick they are to try something new/collaborative/meaningful, and that I couldn’t keep the creative value (and fun!) of collaging and weaving the poems to myself. I decided that the next iteration of what was to grow into the LCC Community-Generated Poetry Project had to focus on the students creating and collaging all the language as well as the poems: their words, their ideas, their truths. And so began the next chapter in the story of this project. Spring 2018 (Inaugural!) LCC Community-Generated Poetry Project