Yep. I’ve been using Poetry 180 as the source of a new opening activity, ripped unapologetically from Nancie Atwell (as a great many things I do these days are), called Poem of the Day– or the P.O.D., as the kids call it, which I believe they think sounds a little more like a rapper, and therefore more worthy.
Twice now we’ve read through a kick-ass poem and the kids have been burning with questions at the end. Who’s the speaker? What does this line mean? And always: where did this poem come from? They want to eat its genesis, its reality, in the same way they gobble up the “real lives” of their favorite stars. Ah, who doesn’t want to know, in their heart of hearts, what David Foster Wallace had for breakfast?
“Do you want to email the poet and ask your questions?” I say nonchalantly, banking on what has now become the expected class-wide whooping answer: “YEAH.”
I model– no– I conduct, real-time– our search, over the digital projector: Googling the author’s name, searching the poet’s biographies, looking up websites. We find an email address, pull up my school account, write the email together, and send it, having conversations about such things as why adding “P.S.– YOU ROCK!” at the bottom is kind, but not quite the tone we’re looking to strike.
Laurel Blossom, author of “Radio,” answered our email within six hours today, and asked us to send her poems. Dorianne Laux, author of “Break,” was located at North Carolina State University, and is currently figuring out a conference call with my sixth period class so they can ask her their questions in person.
These are not magical emails. We don’t write and re-write them, add gratuitous appeals to pity, or include money. We send them out into the world sailing on nothing but the feather-light breeze of tween curiosity; and what returns, seems to do so ten-fold.
What things my kids are learning through this exercise cannot be found in any state or national E/LA standard– and yet I am beginning to wonder if this is in fact the litmus test for the most important things kids do learn. My kids are learning that poets will write back to a class of polite seventh graders, and write back with alacrity and delight. They are learning that wordsmiths out there in world are not only generous with their words, but with their time and attention.
They are learning a different meaning of celebrity– the root of which, I found out today, is the Latin celeber: Frequented. Populous.