Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Calculate Your Name

I decided to lead a mini-workshop with my roommates to test run an assignment that would in some way play with ideas about translations between mathematical and poetic expressions. This idea emerged from conversations with Luke Albrecht, amazing mathematics teacher @ Crown Academy in Chicago, and Cynthia Weiss, brilliant arts educator. Here's what we came up with and the results that followed after an hour long workshop with artists Jamie Topper and Chris Salaveter. Inspired by Oulipo.


First, figure out where your letters of your name appear in the alphabet. Then, write a poem using the number of words per line that correlate with the number attached to the letters in your name. Then, add up all the numbers. Add the number in your total together. Repeat a word or phrase the number of times of that final total.

1 13 1 14 4 1

1+13+1+14+4+1 = 34


1 Snow,
13 Where did we sled when the sky turned cold and we slept slow?
1 Worry
14 settled in when our fingers went numb --- how did we know when to leave?
4 Return home now. Hurry.
1 How?

Slow. Slow.
Slow. Slow.
Slow. Slow.

3 8 18 9 19

Canoe through lilies
Do you chew your food thoroughly while breathing?
Sleeping boy in headlights beyond hill house mess of clothes inflatable giraffe won at carnival by throwing darts.
What is the quickest way to the boiler room?
Staring contest with the owl still thinking of atrophied bengal tiger and cluster of policemen on the wall.

Cover Cover Cover Cover Cover Cover
Cover Cover Cover Cover Cover Cover

10 1 13 9 5

He spotted the stags.
Gentlemen deer
Then separately, the does.
Where to?

My walk to school
East Prairie Road --
One giant fissure in the

If you stay with your kind,
will we survive?

Yours: Half of the back seat

Half ! Half !

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Walking Inside Yourself #2

i see my grandmother
and see my silver cage
with blood and the
slithering heart is
gone somewhere
in my body.
my heart feels
like my mom's
cooking mushrooms.
i see a piano lying down
feeling so sad because
my grandmother
is dead and i wish
she never died.
my weather feels dead
like my grandmother.
she's dead even though
she didn't want to die.

3rd grader, not sure who wrote this..., columbus

Walking Inside Yourself

i walk inside myself and
see a scared, spotted snake
slithering to the planet

the floor was shaking
as fast as someone
on a motorcycle

and i see a soufle
of fluffiness

a forest of words

i walk inside myself
and see a piano plucking
the keys out and getting
a tissue box

i walk inside myself and
see more and more melting
monkies mowing lawns

by christina, 3rd grade, columbus

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Accordian Bookmaking @ Greeley Elementary School

Going Inside Yourself: A Poetry/Book-Making Workshop @ Columbus Elementary School

Mapping Boundaries -- Defining our Lives @ Crown Community Academy

The idea of a “circle of obligation” emerges out of conversations on the “ethics of care” initiated by philosophers such as Nel Noddings and Carol Gilligan. Educators involved with Facing History & Ourselves, a social justice education organization based in Boston, MA, also use the “circle of obligation” metaphor to encourage young people to consider the relationships they value most – to think about the people, ideas, places, and things they would most defend and protect – and why. The nesting circle is a powerful visual metaphor with which to experiment in attempting to express these layers of obligation – in identifying these circles within circles, we create “domains” or categories, inevitably leading to questions of belonging, inclusivity/exclusivity, human relationships, and to whom or what we are ultimately responsible for in developing an “ethics of care” in both our personal and public lives. How do we visually organize our feelings of love and responsibility, and what is the criteria we set for our “ethics of care?” This helps us navigate the complex conversation of self and other – pushing students and ourselves to consider who or what we exclude when we make decisions about who to include in our circles.

Step One: Brainstorm

Think of the people who have been on your mind most today

Think of the places that are most taking your attention today

Think of the ideas or concepts that are most taking your attention today

Think of what or who you’ve been most worried about lately or today

Step Two: Draw a “circle of obligation” using the “bull’s eye” or “nesting circle” image. Start with yourself at the center and consider the rings of obligation that surround you. Who, what, and where would you include?

Step Three: Set Domains/Restraints

Draw a second version that only includes people and places.

Draw a third version that only includes ideas.

The main challenge of this exercise is to really engage in conversation on the concept of obligation, ethics, care, and responsibility. Once we create our visual maps of obligation – how can we engage students in interpreting these maps and making meaning out of them? Also, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to decide who or what is most important to you – don’t let this turn into a battle of which superstar is the best, or which friend likes who better. Really push students to think globally as well as personally about this concept of care – how far do our circles stretch – what do our lives have to do with lives lived across the continent? How can we encourage our students to even begin to consider the interrelational nature of life? This is a good beginning exercise to a longer unit or conversation on the personal vs. the universal, generating awareness about the boundaries that human beings shape and challenge in trying to navigate a complex world of power. Drawing these circles of obligation without leaving room for conversation could leave students feeling like this was a popularity contest of ideas and people in our lives instead a real exploration of why and how we care – and what that might have to do with justice and spirituality. We would recommend returning to this same drawing/writing exercise at the end of a unit of study on borders, mapping, boundaries, inclusion/exclusion, etc. as a way to gauge a sense of growth and heightening of awareness of self as it relates to other.

- Create a collaborative circle of obligation for the whole classroom/school

- Create multiple layers of circles on vellum and attached them so that the layers of obligation are visible

- Further explore the boundaries between two circles of obligation by asking students to imagine standing on the border and connecting to both at once.

- Further explore conversation by asking students to think about the distance between the closest and farthest circle, and to push themselves in either direction to name new layers.

Ask students to create conditions or situations in which these circles of obligations could be challenged – or think about situations in their own lives when they’ve been conflicted about caring for others.

Artist Trading Cards -- Marshall Middle School 07/08

Nature Unleashed--Chavez Multicultural Academy

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Educator Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot speaks so eloquently about RESPECT that I had to post some of her ideas here -- even though she doesn't write directly about poetry, I feel like so much of what she says has to do with real learning that lives inside relationships.

Lawrence-Lightfoot speaks about the educator as a "public adult" -- intense, wise, and generous, who enacts values through "authentic inclusivity" -- not just the rhetoric. The educator must bridge the gap between expressed values and daily actions, addressing the "ghosts of disrespect," both oblique and obvious, who haunt our school hallways and lives. She notes the "micro-aggressions" of the everyday that get in the way of enacting a compassionate culture with respect as the cornerstone. She insists that healing be a central part of education and that genuine interest in the lives of our students -- wanting to know and be known -- makes us vulnerable and open enough to hear difficult ideas and live the questions of our time. Endless curiosity is at the core of all meaningful relationships. To exist, we must be visible, and made visible by those around us. Finally, respect is about 1/symmetry, 2/relationship, 3/civility, and 4/storytelling. Respect is relational and generative.


Poetry is like a bird flying in the clouds
Poetry is Sofia sitting on a buffalo
Poetry is like a duck in a flower
Poetry is like an eye full of fire
like a wind making music
Painting without paint
When a person hits another person and they die
A world full of blind people
sitting in the park at night
Is like Sofia sitting in jail
Is like a dog chasing a mouse

Mary S. Columbus Elementary School 4th grader, "Poetry is..." workshop


I soar through the sky looking
for dark poetry. I feast on dark poetry books.
The defenseless books beg for mercy.
I might spare 1 or 2 but no more.
I can see nothing but books and blood.
If I were ever confronted
by a holy poetry book, I would die
and hopefully I would remake a memory
forever, but till then, I will forever feast
upon dark poetry.

I hold the paper on a tilt
so the black, bitter ink slides
into my mouth, my lips are black
like the woods at night, but as silent
as a shadow. My veins turn black
as I devour the ink
on the ghost white page.

Alejandro and Luke, 4th grade (2001-2002)

Written in a poetry residency at Columbus Elementary School, Chicago, IL after reading Billy Collin's "Eating Poetry"

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


You wanna go to my footprint? Well, if you must. First, once you arrive, you’ll see a man in prison. That would be my father. Don’t ask why he’s there. It’s personal. He’ll ask you to help him. To tell me to forgive me. Don’t do either. He deserved what he got and I’ll die before I forgive him. Next, if you go in the right direction, you’ll see a large German chocolate cake. Don’t touch it. It’s mine. Greedy much? Good. It’s from my 5th birthday. One of my better ones when I look back on life. If you keep on easing down the road, you’ll find a tooth. It’s the first one I ever lost. My mommy pulled it out so it hurt like…well, you know. Don’t touch that either. I’m still waiting for the tooth fairy to get back to me on that. After that, if you keep going, you’ll see my name spelled incorrectly. I know it’s hard to spell, but if you’re a 5 year old girl, it might be. I’m gonna tell you now. You’re not allowed to touch anything. So keep going and se a younger me with chickenpox. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll keep walking. Years later in my memory – you’ll find a red cross. I’m in the hospital. Come talk to me if you want. All I did was say I’m gonna kill myself. Keep going and you’ll see why I’m crying. Can’t you see? 7th grade was hell.

J, 8th grade

this student is one of the most extraordinary writers i've ever come across in my years of teaching writing -- the strongest voice, the most feeling i've encountered in a long, long time. to respect her privacy, i won't say much about her life. but i couldn't help wanting to post this writing done in a residency on mapping, where students were asked to map their lives inside the shape of their own shoe print, and then write about it. i'm so lucky to know this young woman and her writing.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

POETRY -- by fourth grader Egor D., Chicago, IL


Paint comes out of my eyes.
There's always sadness in my brain.
I've been eating poetry.

All the people see me.
They run away
and then they stop.

The poems have been disappeared.
The people cry.
More and more people are coming and

They drip and fall.
The blood goes down the stairs.
The poor people don't know what to do.

Now the people begin to crawl.
The people flew up and never came down.

*this poem was written by Egor Duma, 4th grader at Columbus Elementary School in Ukrainian Village, about 2 years ago. We read a poem on poetry by Billy Collins, and then I asked them to write about the "power" of poetry to make us do, feel, and think certain things. This is what he wrote, straight away, no cross-outs or erasings. Incredible imagery, incredible language. I love this poem.