Imperfect: Poems about Mistakes. Tabatha Yeatts has collected an appealing mixture of poems old and new (including a few by middle schoolers), interspersed with quotes perfect for inscribing on binders. At a time in your life when mistakes can feel enormous, permanent, impossible to get over (and really, is there any other kind of time in your life?), this book brings a great big dose of perspective.
Brenda Davis Harsham categorizes
mistakes as three-alarm, two-alarm or one-alarm in her "Three-Alarm
Mistakes," a poem that started me imagining how fun it would be to
brainstorm those with my students. Mistakes do come in all shapes and sizes, and all are represented here, in seventy poems both funny and serious.
Is the mistake being mean to someone, like in "To the boy playing with his army men on the front lawn," by Michelle Heidenrich Barnes? Is the mistake not speaking up when you really had plenty to say, like in Suzy Levinson's "Lots of Things"? Did a vampire get seriously hurt, like in Heidi Mordhorst's "Vampire Vs. Venti"? Was it a mistake that ended up turning into an invention, like in "Persistence, or In Praise of Post-It Notes," by Keri Collins Lewis? Mary Lee Hahn writes about the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Irene Latham takes on the voice of the Titanic.
All of these imperfections lend themselves perfectly to poetry. In Tabatha Yeatts' introduction, she quotes Kellie Elmore: "Poetry will die when love and pain cease to exist." Since both love and pain abound in middle school, poetry abounds there too. As Liz Garton Scanlon asks in her series of haiku entitled "Haiku for How to Screw Up Middle School,"
Will this never end?
Middle school's not forever,
You can do this thing.
I started reading this anthology last weekend on our eighth grade retreat, an annual event when we take our oldest middle schoolers, soon to leave us, off to somewhere beautiful overnight and spend some time introducing them to what awaits them in high school. (Credits! Time management! Setting goals!) Middle school certainly isn't forever, we're reminded each year as we pass on another class we've come to love. They don't go far - just upstairs - but they do go away. As I told them about GPAs, I tried hard to balance advice to take academics seriously right from the first day of ninth grade with the comforting fact that all is not lost - life is not over - if you get a D. Poetry like this helps as we try to share our experience (compared to a map in Carl Sandburg's poem "Experience") while still recognizing that the way is theirs to choose. It will be an imperfect way, but they are going to be fine.
Yes, there's a lot to love in this book, and one thing I must mention is the beautiful cover. It depicts the Japanese art of kintsugi, mending cracks using gold. Instead of trying to hide mistakes or broken places, we can look at imperfections as part of our history, something to be honored as contributing to who we are now. What better metaphor for growth, in middle school and beyond?
Here are some other people's takes on this anthology.
Jama has this week's roundup.
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