Shake the Dust: Writing an Epilogue Poem

Faith, Rhett and Deacon on stage in November for a production of Copperfield, now a favorite memory…

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!)

“Remember” by Joy Harjo (Thanks to Oona Marie Abrams and Go Poems for suggesting this poem!)

“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.

What are your favorite ways to shelter in poetry?


Elizabeth Oosterheert teaches 8th grade language and theatre arts in Iowa. She  loves writing beside students and sharing the stage with them.  Her favorite stories are Our Town, The Outsiders, and Peter Pan.  

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4 thoughts on “Shake the Dust: Writing an Epilogue Poem

  1. […] my last post for Three Teachers Talk, I shared an excerpt from a poem written about my quadruplets’ birth. […]

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  2. […] my last post for Three Teachers Talk, I shared an excerpt from a poem written about my quadruplets’ birth. […]

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  3. Amy Rasmussen April 19, 2021 at 5:37 pm Reply

    You have so many richly touching poems as mentors for this epilogue writing. I am familiar with most and reading through the others. But I tell ya, Elizabeth, that slice of your original poem floored me with its emotional punch. OMG.
    Thanks so much for sharing!

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    • Elizabeth Oosterheert April 19, 2021 at 6:21 pm Reply

      Hi Amy,
      Thank you so much for reading my post! I’ve found that our hearts are very tender in this season of the school year when the finish line is in sight, and students are tasting the mixture of trepidation and excitement filling them as they dream about high school. The Scott Myers piece reminded me of the birth of my quadruplets–and then for the second half of my poem I wrote about a very difficult loss–not included in the excerpt. Writing always brings healing. 🙂

      Like

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