A Poet Who Didn’t Know It…

We just completed a unit on poetry in the ELA class that I co-teach, and the students have been working on a summative end-of-unit task. They were asked to pick a topic and write a poem about it, with a minimum of 74 words, using at least five literary devices (e.g. onomatopoeia, personification, allusion, alliteration, metaphor, simile, repetition, etc.). The second part of the task asked them to write a page-long artist statement, explaining why they chose the topic they chose, where in their poem and why they employed the literary devices, and how the use of figurative language effects the message of a poem.

There were a couple of poetry-loving students who were naturally very into this assignment. The vast majority of them were indifferent. And then there were those who absolutely hated it, claiming to abhor poetry and the writing of it. One of those students put off writing his poem until the day before it was due. He told me, “I hate poetry, I can’t write it, and I don’t want to do this assignment.” I finally sat down with him and forced him to get his wheels spinning.

He had told me a few days before that he was going to try and write about Brooklyn, so I said, “Ok. You want to write about Brooklyn. What about it?” He told me he wanted to write about how Brooklyn changes people. I thought that was a great idea and asked him if he wanted to focus on Brooklyn and how it changes people, or the actual people being changed by Brooklyn. He said, “People. I’ll focus on a boy and a girl.” Great. Progress.

He said he didn’t even know where to begin, so I suggested we make a rough outline of how it will look. We decided it would have six stanzas, each one switching back and forth between speaking about the boy and the girl. I asked him what he wanted to “say” in the three pairs of stanzas and suggested that each pair have a theme or message. He decided he would speak about the boy and the girl before the change, during the change, and after the change. We were really making progress now!

I threw out an idea about the boy coming from a “bad” area of Brooklyn and him changing for the bad, and the girl coming from a “nice” area of Brooklyn and her changing for the good. He tilted his head in indifference. I said, “Or maybe the boy can come from a bad area, but change for the good. And the girl can come from a nice area, but change for the bad.” His eyes lit up, “I like that! That’s good!” We drew a very basic outline, decided the last line of every stanza could repeat something about Brooklyn, and then I told him he just has to fill in the outline with strategically and beautifully placed words. He seemed more confident than before.

Today he came into class and nonchalantly said, “Mr. Dalton, here’s my poem,” handing me a paper. I read it, and was completely blown away by what he wrote. It was a powerful, skillfully-written poem that had an amazing theme, with “real” characters who had obvious and touching character arcs. I flooded him with compliments and praise, also reminding him that he had said he “hates poetry and can’t write it.” He seemed surprised that I said it is good, and slightly surprised that he might have actually even enjoyed writing it, even if he didn’t fully admit that part.

The rest of the day, I took his poem around, like a proud parent, and read it to the assistant principal, the principal, and any teacher who would listen. And now I will share it with you:

* * *

Brooklyn Change


He’s as bright as a diamond, but still in the rough; glows in the dark of the hood.

Only evil dwells there, no good.

The city tries to brainwash him.

Gangs, alcohol, drugs, they’ll turn a church boy into a thug.

Brooklyn’s voice is loud.

* * *

She seeks change, to be different, but is already privileged;

Lives like royalty looking over a village.

The village speaks through her friends.

Drugs create an illusion, her parents’ grip becomes loosened.

Brooklyn’s voice is loud.

* * *

He is becoming a scholar, he is passing expectations,

Amassing more knowledge than past generations.

Everybody soon loves him. He seeks to bring happiness where ever he goes.

He’s humble; greetings and goodbyes are always given.

Brooklyn’s voice is loud.

* * *

Her downward spiral begins, losing friends, fans, and family.

Everybody views her as a bottom feeder.

Barely clinging to life,

She says she’s depressed, going through strife.

Brooklyn’s voice is loud.

* * *

Zoom! Years pass, people change, before and afters occur.

He has become successful, lived out his dreams.

Now he steps into his hood, he gleams.

He says everything has stayed the same, no evolution.

He views the people that tried to change him as pollution.

Brooklyn’s voice is loud.

* * *

She has become a torched soul, doesn’t know what is reality.

She says “This is just a formality. I can stop,”  but it finally falls on deaf ears.

She regrets the first time, saying, “This is fantastic!”

Regrets saying, “Don’t worry, mom. This wont become drastic!”

Regrets not taking control,

Regrets her life as a whole,

She wonders where’s the old crowd now.

Brooklyn’s voice is loud.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: