Friends' Central class 4b writes poetry
with Al Filreis (spring 2002)

I visited Friends' Central class 4B twice this spring, and they visited me at the Kelly Writers House on Penn's campus once for a poetry fest, which was great fun. During these sessions we discussed modern and experimental poetry and we tried our hand at writing some poems.

Just below is one of the poems written as part of an exercise. Through the exercise the students had to think very concretely about things they like and cannot do without. Through the process of revision these concrete things disappeared and what was left were poems more generally about the likes. Here's one:

I want to go riding every day,
I cannot live without the phone,
I think the cabin is too quiet without any music,
I love to paint,
I like animation,
I don't like grilled cheese,
I can eat ice-cream when I'm driving.
I will get dehydrated.

We also wrote free rewrites of William Carlos Williams' famous poem, "This Is Just to Say." Here's one:

This Is Just to Say

I have pushed
the horse
a little
too fast

and I should've gone
a little
more slowly

Forgive me
I just felt
the urge
to push it on.

Here are five more poems written in response to the first exercise:

My gerbil is nicer than my dog,
I need to know what is happening in the world,
I need to eat,
I need a lot of books to read,
My mom can drive me places,
My dad will cook pancakes for me,
I like a good bed so I can sleep,
My friend's cat is cute and fuzzy.

I need to snowboard in the summer,
I need to laugh,
I need to wear something,
I need to listen to music,
I need something fuzzy,
I need to spend money on the world,
I really like pork lo mein.

I need to have my pets for their loving mind and great loyalty,
My parents give good advice and are always there for me,
My grandfather's spirit is in my stuffed bunny because I love
	my grandpa and he gave it to me when I was born,
I plan to be the greatest tennis player on the planet.

I need protection.
I need to see everything.
I need to exercise.
I think the poetry inside it is endless.
I need knowledge.
I need reminders of my parents.
I need the past.
I need nourishment.
I avoid being bored.

I need to feel the power of the story.
I need to feel the feel of water.
I need someone to talk to.
I can't live without music.

I showed the students a poem by Mike Magee titled "Pledge." It is a fun free rewriting of the Pledge of Allegiance using word substitutions. This was a warm-up exercise; the idea was to permit the students momentary freedom from thinking of words as referring to things--but only as sounds. Then we all rewrote "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" using word and nonsense-word substitutions. Here's one:

Shake key pout to the mall fame,
make me shout with the clown,
Pie we come leen ups sand slacker packs,
I won't share if I lever bet knack,
'Cause it's toot, toot, toot for the moonbeam,
If play won't pin it's a lame
and it's fun! food! me likes poor pout!
pat the cole mall frame.  

We learned about tone. Tone is perhaps the most difficult thing to learn as a writer. Tone, we learned, is an attitude toward the subject matter that is made clear through the words (word choice, diction, etc.). I asked the students to read a letter Summer wrote to Spring, and then to write a short reply to Summer from Spring. But each student was randomly assigned to write that reply using a certain tone. Here are the replies to summer written by 4B'ers assigned tones of bored, nostalgic/sad, angry, and surprised:

Dear Summer,
	I just want to say I'm tired of this job. It's okay.
Whatever. You can move in whenever you want. I'm packing my
bags right now. I want to go. I need another break.
			Yours truly,
				[tone: bored]

Dear Summer,
	I just want to say I miss the old days. I miss
the warm days of my time and the end of the cold weather.
I also hope I get my position back and why, summer, did
you decide to get rid of me?
				[tone: nostalgic, sad]

	I just want to say that you're a lunatic! All you
do is make things hotter than they already are. Without
me all you would be is a desert!	
P.S. You wouldn't have any color either!
				[tone: angry]

Dear Summer,
	I just want to say, I never knew I'd be fired
so quickly. I actually thought I was doing well. I guess
I was wrong. Please treat winter nicely. I know the
kids like you better but tell them I'll miss them picking
my beautiful buttercups. 
			Yours truly,
P.S. Tell the groundhog to come out in the summer.
				[tone: surprised]

I showed the students a short narrative written from the point of view of a new immigrant, just off the boat, as he approaches Ellis Island. The students were to make poems out of a series of questions that would occur in the mind of this immigrant--from his point of view. Here are two of those poems:

Will I ever get through?
If I do, will I really be free?
Will the people be nice?
Will my brother show up?

Do they have good food?
Will I meet the President?
What will America be like?
Will my brother be there?
Is it cold like Poland?
Why is this man pulling on my eyelid?