This is for the bus drivers driving a million broken hymns. This is for the men who have to hold down three jobs simply to hold their children. This is for the night schoolers, and the midnight bike riders who are trying to fly.
Shake the dust….Anis Mojgani
Shake the dust. My students and I have been reflecting on what it means to be “dust shakers” during a year when we’ve all experienced “broken hymn” moments. This spring, as our time in writing workshop draws to a close, I’ve asked my students to cultivate their writing gardens by composing what I call an “Epilogue Poem,” a reflective piece about an element of their journeys as eighth graders.
Our mentor poems for Epilogue Poetry are:
“The Golden Shovel” by Terrance Hayes: (If you’re not familiar with Golden Shovel poetry, check out this New York Times article for suggestions on how to write a Golden Shovel Poem using a newspaper headline as a mentor text!)
“The Breath of Life” by Scott Myers: This poem is about the inestimable value of every breath.
“A Long and Happy Life” by Delta Rae (Thanks to Brett Vogelsinger for introducing me to this song!) In addition to playing the song, I like to share this behind the scenes video with my students because band members talk about using book titles as mentor texts, childhood artifacts, and discuss what having a “long and happy life” means to them. This inspires my students in their thinking about abundant life as they write their poetry.
“Shake the Dust” by Anis Mojgani: This beautifully written spoken word gem speaks to anyone who has ever felt marginalized.
After listening to the mentor poems, discussing craft moves, and making annotations throughout the week, we take the next step into writing a poetic reflection on any of the following:
- A “watershed moment” in our lives. I define “watershed” as a moment that alters the trajectory of life such as a birth, death, divorce or separation, etc. While I would never obligate a student to write about a watershed, many choose to do so after a whole year of writing together.
- Something we’ve learned during the pandemic
- A favorite elementary or middle school memory
- A tribute to someone who has mentored us
- What it means to have an abundant life
- A reflection on our families
We use Wakelet to curate golden lines from our favorite mentor poems and then try writing our own lines modeled after the mentor or simply publish an idea that we have for a poem.
My student Daiva posted:
I chose this golden line from “Shake the Dust” :”So when the world knocks at your door, turn the knob and open it up, and run into its widespread, greeting arms.” I chose this line because the writer makes the world sound like a person. This line reminds me that the world will always welcome us, though we may hesitate at first. I liked all of our mentor poems, but this one spoke to me the most…
Natilia wrote a few of her own lines using “Remember” as a mentor text:
Remember the night sky.
Remember the look of it at 10’o’clock on a summer evening
With the breeze blowing in your face…
I wrote beside my students by posting on Wakelet, and then sharing a draft that I was composing using the Scott Myers piece as a mentor. A portion of my poem, “Alive and Breathing,” is linked here. Students will use the Wakelet posts as a springboard for their rough drafts.
April is the perfect time to shelter in poetry with our students, and to reflect on the joys and challenges of this “broken hymn” season in our learning lives. Epilogue poetry compels eighth graders to capture their favorite memories, before they’re lost.