I appreciated the inclusive nature of our school’s pedagogy so I went and sat in the hot gymnasium to witness the graduation of eight children I did not know.
As the children read their speeches (which rivaled any Academy Award ceremony) I noticed an absence. What was it?
I recalled my own grade six year, eleven or twelve years old. What would I have said to my school?
Poetry! Poetry was missing! None of the children wrote poems to sum up their school experience, or to convey their gratitude. I was surprised.
The following September I approached Wayne, the school’s beloved Grades 4, 5, and 6 teacher. I asked him about poetry and offered to run a workshop in his class. He readily agreed and I began what became for me a delightful annual endeavour.
For six or eight weeks I would go into the class and guide these enthusiastic and imaginative kids to use words to paint sound pictures – poetry. Borrowing heavily from Kenneth Koch, a poet I read during my university years, I created a workshop which produced the desired result – confidence in the students’ ability to write.
The most extraordinary part of each class was when a student “finished” a poem, and I asked if they’d like to write it on the blackboard for all to see. At first there was some reluctance but once the thrill of publication coursed through the classroom there was an energy that defied even the dismissal bell.
Children jostled for their spot in the queue. There was only so much blackboard! They transcribed from their notebooks to the board their poem. I prompted them at this level to check spelling and punctuation and line break. I urged them to realize that any glitch could sink a whole poem.
Once the poem was thoroughly proof-read I called the class to attention. The poet became solemn and self-conscious. As the rest of the class read along silently with the blackboard version, the poet read his or her poem aloud. You could’ve heard a paper airplane land.
Always applause. Good, bad, or ugly, the children always applauded the courage and effort of their classmate. Then there were questions and comments. The poet squirmed in the limelight, then rushed to their seat when the fleeting moment of fame had passed.
And the next poet was ready, vibrating with excitement, “Can I read mine next, Sandy? Can I? Can I?”
Publication: the world stops whirling for a moment, and reads.