One day recently my friends Steve and Cathy asked me if I would teach their grandsons, ages nine and eleven, some basics about writing poetry. They were being homeschooled by their mom during the Covid-19 epidemic — so I created some lessons. I sent them out in the morning and we met over Zoom at the end of the day to discuss the lesson and read people’s poems out loud. It went so well, I thought I would make the lessons available to others as a workbook. Kids Write Poetry – A Workbook for Young Poets is my way of serving the community during a difficult time.
Here is the first lesson as an example:
Poems are built from pieces: words and lines are the two basic building blocks. The goal of the first exercise is to make one line poems that tell a story. A story can be suggestive and not necessarily have a beginning, middle and end. One-line poems can sketch an idea. Sometimes the sketch-style poems are the most interesting ones. Here are some examples of one-line poems from one of the masters, the Greek poet Yannis Ritsos:
I erase the shadow completely with this gold pencil.
The night always behind my pages. That’s why my letters shine so brightly.
Your clothes, thrown on the chair, still smell of the sea.
To speak constantly about wrong things is like being wrong.
Notice how his lines do not always make sense in the conventional way. Poems are interesting when they put things together in new ways. Don’t worry about it making sense or not. Your brain will always make its own sense of things anyway. We are meaning making creatures. The best poems can often be read or interpreted in multiple ways. Also notice how his lines are built from interesting physical objects combined with actions that are unexpected. You don’t expect, when reading about clothes on a chair to have them smell like the sea! How cool is that!
First assignment: write ten one line poems in the style of Yannis Ritsos. You can use physical objects from your own life as a starting place, or just start from imagination, which is as real as anything in the so-called real world anyway. Don’t worry about making sense!! Write a few where they seem to make very little sense, even if they are just a list of things. Also, make it fun. You write for your own enjoyment and for strangers.
So for example, I am looking at my very messy desk right now. Here are some things I see and some other things they bring to mind:
Two used containers of ant bait. A family portrait.
Piles of stuff everywhere. I wish I could staple my life back together.
You can download it here: Kids Write Poetry – A Workbook for Young Poets.