Last week I had the distinct pleasure of giving my first school presentation at the John Crosland School, where some of my former students are now in upper school. It was fun to see how those students have grown, both physically and academically, and to remember that I was working on Crazy in my “spare” time while teaching there.
The John Crosland School serves students with specific attention and learning differences, and quite honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect in response to a book written in verse about a teenage girl in the 1960’s struggling with her mother’s mental illness. But it didn’t take long into my presentation to remember how compassionate, empathetic, and understanding these students can be. It makes sense. Each of them is dealing with at least one, if not more than one, issue or situation that has added extra challenges to their learning process. These are young adults who are learning how to compensate and cope with what life has handed them. What better group to grasp a novel that depicts a teenager coping with somewhat overwhelming challenges in her life?
I began with a reading of the first poem and invited their feedback. They opened up immediately, sharing examples of the grief and/or issues that some have encountered. During my teaching days there, I was constantly in awe of how detail-oriented students with certain learning differences can be, and this day was no exception. Their responses indicated a firm grasp of major historical events during the sixties, as well as a reasonable understanding of how a mental illness can upset the equilibrium in a family.
I went on using a power point to explore the meaning of “free verse,” the format of Crazy. Again, during my teaching career, this population invariably did well reading and writing any kind of verse, many times in spite of their “yuck!” opinion of poetry. They often surprised themselves (and me) with wonderfully creative and free-flowing examples of verse written straight from the heart.
I wasn’t sure if we would have time for a mini-writing exercise, but because of their spot-on attentiveness, we did. I used a handout of a revised version of the exercise mentioned in my workshop Writing From the Heart Through Verse. (condensed here) We spent a few moments as a whole group brainstorming how you might go through the process with a pesky relative (cousin, brother, sister, parent) in mind.
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN
- Think of three things (good or bad) in your life that cause you to react emotionally🙁 (a pesky sibling, a big disappointment, an argument or issue with a parent, a childhood memory, your worst fear or your best triumph in life…….)
- Choose the one that pumps you up or brings you down the most.
- List a number of the most emotive (arousing intense feelings) words you can think of when you think of your topic.
- Write three or more sentences of description in paragraph form, describing the situation as objectively as possible without injecting feelings (just the facts, ma’am.)
- Write some words or sentences about how this makes you feel. Pour it on thick!
- Now try to put it into free verse form. As you write, you will probably come up with new thoughts and ideas. Don’t feel like you have to stick to your original words. Think about how you want to arrange the words and lines on the page.
As I walked around the room I nervously saw the clock ticking but I also saw some students writing fast and furiously. One happened to be a former student named Scott, who was willing to share the following poem that is unedited here:
My cousins ignore me….
Ignorance is more like it.
They tease me like I am worthless.
They are not worth my time.
They are together constantly.
They are like a pack of hyenas always looking for scraps and a good laugh.
It make me upset.
I wish I was not upset . I miss them
Once again, I am blown away at how poetry WORKS for anyone who is willing to open up, become vulnerable, dig deep and let go! Thanks John Crosland students, for letting me share my story and most of all, for being willing to share your time and talents with me. I’ll look for you at the book launch at Park Road Books Nov. 8, 2014!
Hey READERS, I would love to hear from you.
Is your MIND FULL of old thoughts or new?