Poet and teacher Matthew Burgess has made a discovery: when it comes to poetry, first graders can teach college students a thing or two! In his delightful essay, “Serious Play: Odes to the Everyday,” Burgess writes about his own experience as a poet-in-residence in New York City elementary schools and as a college professor of creative writing. Since one of the aims of writing poetry is to defamiliarize the familiar, younger writers have a natural advantage. They already live in a world in which an overturned chair can become a rocket or the filling in a tooth can pick up a radio station on Mars. In other words, they know how to play. But when it came to encouraging his older students to draw on that playful imagination in one’s writing, Burgess wondered, “How could I get the college students to behave more like the children?”
One way was to create an atmosphere in the classroom that encourages play. Another was to devise writing prompts that require students to, in Burgess’s words, “emphasize process over product, that challenge strict notions of authorship, and that nudge us out of our familiar style or mode and keep us on our toes.”
So here is the challenge for us this week: write an ode to an object or feeling you encounter everyday. Begin by reading Matthew Burgess’s article. Since we are not in a room together, we can’t exactly follow his assignment, so instead, we will adapt it slightly. Look around the room and write your own everyday ode to an object within sight, if not within reach. The more ordinary, the better. The goal is to be spontaneous and playful. In your first go, spend no more than 30 minutes writing, then put your ode away. Wait a day or two, and take it out again. Read it aloud. Revise if you like, but for no more than 30 minutes. Then release your poem to the ether as you might blow on a dandelion puff–and post it here.
Hmmm, I don’t know about you, but that laundry basket has just gotten a whole lot more interesting….