Friday, September 26, 2014

Poetry Friday: Process

I read a poem with my students called "Folding Sheets," by Madge Piercy.  (Here it is.)  Afterward we talked about activities that make us think of certain people.  Piercy's poem includes lots of sensory details, so we talked about those, too.  I challenged the students to write a poem that recounted a memory of doing something with someone, and in the course of the description, revealed a person and a relationship.

Then I decided to try it myself.

The poem was a lot different from the way I was planning in my head (a fact which became part of my minilesson).  I decided to write about going to church.  There was a period when I was a child when my family attended a church in Swahili.  Though we had lived in Kenya for a while, we lived in an English-speaking enclave, since my parents worked in education, and all education in Kenya was in English.  Our vocabularies contained some Swahili words, and my parents had studied the language, but my brothers and I couldn't understand enough to follow what was going on.  That was the church experience I decided to write about.

I started by brainstorming.

Not all these details wound up in the poem, but I worked hard to remember exactly how it felt to be in that place at that time.

Next, I tried a first draft.

I found that I wasn't really focusing on my parents, whom I had intended to write about.  (You can see my mother saying "Shh" in the first draft, though.)  Instead, I kept thinking about a song we used to sing.  In English, the song is "Pass Me Not."  You can see that I had already remembered it in my brainstorming.  It was "Unisipite" there, and it was "Unisipite" in my first draft, but actually it's called "Usinipite."  I had remembered it wrong, a fact I learned when I talked to my brothers. 

Because that was my next step: research.  I told my students that we think about research when we're writing something informational, but that I often do research for all kinds of writing.  In this case, it involved talking to my brothers (we had an extensive Facebook chat sharing our memories).  It also involved looking up "Usinipite" on YouTube and finding this fascinating video:

I watched this video off and on for the rest of the afternoon.  Not only was that the song (jazzed up slightly in this version), but LOOK at that white tie!  It could be the seventies again.

I decided I wanted to focus on that song, and so I continued researching by looking up the lyrics and downloading Lyle Lovett's version (unfortunately I couldn't find a video of him singing it). 

I thought more and more about that song, and how I was asking God, in Swahili, which I didn't even understand (we used to call the song "Unispite"), to minister to me, too, and not pass me by.  And I thought about how God did that, and how my childhood faith, instead of being stifled by those hours in church, was actually strengthened.

I'm not completely happy yet with the poem that resulted, but I shared it with my students anyway, as well as the process I went through: prewriting,  researching my own past, marinating the ideas for days, shifting the focus from my original intention.  Here it is:

Pass Me Not

Sunday morning found my family in a schoolroom for worship.
Dressed in our matching polyester outfits, my brothers and I
Sat at splintery, grafitti-ed wooden desks.
My hair was neatly braided
And the kids behind us pulled my blond pigtails.
It was hot.
A fly buzzed.
The Swahili words of the sermon buzzed too,
Swarming around our heads
As we wiggled
And our parents hushed us.

We sang Usinipite
Which we gigglingly called Unispite.
“Pass me not, O gentle Savior,”
Say Fanny Crosby’s English words, which I didn’t know at the time:
“Savior, savior,
Hear my earnest cry;
While on others thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.”
And somehow
He did call on me too.
And through the heat and the buzzing and the splinters and the wiggling
He passed me not.

The Poetry Friday roundup is here today. 


Carol Varsalona said...

This is a splendid, detailed commentary on the process of writing. Pairing your text with the video and evidence of your movement from brainstorming to final product must have been an eye opener to your students.

Tara said...

So moving to read through your process of thinking and "marinating" your ideas, Ruth. Like Carol, I know that your kids must have had lots of questions about your process, and have come to understand all it takes to craft a pice of beautiful writing.

laurasalas said...

Thanks for sharing your process. I've been writing rhyming poems that are more story/verse than sensory poetry, and brainstorming details and sensory words really helps me revise. The last two lines of your poem--wonderful...

jama said...

Thanks for sharing your writing process with us. What a wonderful lesson for your students to see the progression. I can just picture you sitting at that splintery desk with your pigtails. :)

Sherry said...

I like it. Thanks for sharing.

Buffy Silverman said...

So nice to read about how you write with your students, and share that process with them. Love the buzzing fly and buzzing sermon--really drew me into your childhood experience.

Bridget Magee said...

Thank you for sharing your process and the final result. What a rich learning experience for your students! I love the idea of "research" when it is an experience from your life. = )

Robyn Hood Black said...

So beautiful, Ruth - the poem, the process, the song. Thanks you for chronicling it all, not just for students, but for us, too!

Anonymous said...

The more of your poetry I read, and the more I hear stories of your childhood that I haven't heard before, the more I love you.


Linda B said...

Wonderful to see the way you started, then followed through all the parts, Ruth. I would imagine your students loved hearing about the poem, and then loving it. I hope it inspired them to discover their own memories. Thanks for all the time you put into this post to share with us too. I will share it with those colleagues who teach the older students!

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

While reading your poem, Ruth, Usinipite played in the background, helping me get a sense of the background of your life, at that moment, in the Swahili church. Thanks for sharing both your experience, and your process. I feel honored to be one of your students this week.

Mary Lee said...

Thank you for sharing the story of this poem, and for the video. I watched it, and sort of relived your childhood experience -- I only knew the one word, and I tried to make sense of the rest of what I heard and saw based on that. (Without flies, without heat, without sitting on a hard bench...but still...) :-)

Matsu said...

Thank you for sharing not just the product of your work but also the process that went into creating the final (or near final) product. Very nicely done!

Liz Steinglass said...

Ruth--thank you so much for sharing your assignment and your process. I'm sure your students learn so much from your example. I think I will try your assignment too.

Karen Edmisten said...

Oh, I love writing process posts. :) This is great, Ruth, and very moving -- the memories, the connections and stories that were stirred during the process ... beautiful post and beautiful poem.

Carol said...

I loved reading the story of your process and I loved reading the poem that resulted. Most of all, I loved reading how God has used this song to minister to your spirit, even when you couldn't understand the words and there were flies and splinters and heat.