Friday, March 26, 2010


For the last unit of the year, the grade nine English teachers at The Koc School where I teach English, take their students through a six week long poetry unit, the culminating activity being an awards ceremony. This isn't just any awards ceremony, this is the Golden Rams, a spin off of the Oscars complete with the People's Choice Award and of course, an actual Golden Ram. Well, as you can see in the picture it is more of a silly sheep, spray painted gold, by me and the art teacher. Koc, by the way, means ram. The presenters, a male and female English teacher, dress to the nines. Mr. Fulton who has presented every year to date, dons a black tux, and the lady presenter, who changes each year, dresses in a decadent black feather boa and sparkly evening dress (I did it last year). It is great fun, with corny jokes to boot.

How do the grade nine students win the coveted Golden Ram? Well, they film and edit an animated poem. Essentially, the students choose a poem, analyze it, deconstruct it and figure out how to represent it visually. Billy Collins has some professionally filmed, and worthwhile watching, animated poems on youtube that you could check out if you are so inclined. In order to get the kids warmed up to working in groups and using film techniques, we set the grade nine students out on a scavenger hunt during lunch time. Their assignment is to film as many of the tasks as possible in a 40-minute period. The tasks include singing in a public space, doing leap frog, playing air hockey in the common area, serenading a teacher (though I think we took this out, it was awkward in some situations), capturing wild life, etc. So each spring we set loose 155 grade nine students to run amok on campus, with cameras in hand. It is quite a site, and a warning e-mail to the school community always precedes the event.

I am the unit leader this year for the poetry unit, and in preparation, I started reading a great book on teaching poetry to high school students titled Poetry of Place by Terry Hermsen . The author teaches poetry in unconventional ways in order to get students as excited and interested in poetry as their geeky English teachers are. One of the many ideas that he writes about that I will use is the poetry night hike. The grade nine boarders have no idea what is coming their way.

I am only a quarter way through, but already I have been inspired to write some of my own poetry, something I really don't do. However, I like to do the tasks myself that I will assign to my students, mainly because it helps me to work out any kinks, but it also gives me more insight into how to teach something. So yesterday, for my senior elective English class with a young lady who plays a 100-year-old harp and whose poetry writes circles around me, we headed outside into the brisk, new spring air. There I found inspiration to write four short poems, three of which are riddles. I shared my poems with the tux guy, and feeling inspired, he wrote one as well.

Let's see if you can guess the answers to the riddles. The first three are mine, then David's, then one published in the aforementioned poetry book written by a member of the Kuyukon tribe in Northern Canada.

Yellow-bellied clusters of white stars.

Cutting off heads, growling and gaining speed.

Snowy pale, delicate lace in a sea of green.

A congress of black robed
solicitors sit in high judgment
and squabble over the littering
of squawking students.

Far away, a fire flares up.

And for this one, the assignment is to just write about what you see before you. Very Zen.

Lesson in the Afternoon

Hop hop hopping,
picking through the green shoots and autumnal debris,
scarcely seen birds forage.
Like bells, tiny birds twinkle in the tree tops.
A blue lady appears,
beings silence, and disperse.

I will sign off with a couple lines from a gazal poem, written by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, that I feel captures what spring is like in Istanbul this year.

It's still distant, but there are hints of springtime,
some flowers, aching to bloom, have torn open their collars.

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