Rusty Dreams

Posted August 9, 2011 & filed under Notebook.

As teachers, many of us must spend time teaching the personal narrative in preparation for state testing exams.  We concentrate on organization, clarity, word choice, grammar, and other writing “essentials.”  The child’s real story, though, sometimes gets lost.  As I prepare to return to the classroom (and all of those What I Did This Summer essays), I want to make sure I inspire children to express the deep feelings they have about an event before they try to organize and revise their thoughts into the perfect essay.

One way that I’ve accomplished this in the past is through poetry.  Poetry can help children get at their core feelings about an event.  Sergio, for example, is a smart, quiet student who has been dealing with family changes ever since we met.  He wanted to write an essay about living without his older brother, who has been serving in Afghanistan for two years.  Sergio really misses him and wants him to come home.  I thought Sergio’s idea for his essay sounded important and meaningful.

Before Sergio started to write, I gave him Langston Hughes’ poem about deferred dreams and asked Sergio to think about his dream for his brother to return home safely.   How would he describe that dream?  What does it feel like to wait for him?  Below is the Langston Hughes poem and Sergio’s imitation, which talks about what it’s like to carry around the weight of a “rusty dream.”

What Happens to a Dream Deferred?

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust over and sugar over—

Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

Like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

by Langston Hughes

What Happens When a Dream Rusts?

Does the dream rust until it falls

like a man’s heart when it’s broken?

Does it stink like a spoiled egg?

Is it crushed with a lie?

Is the dream like a sharp nail

being pinned to the wall?

Does it fall into the fire

and explode like popcorn?

Or does a rusty dream lay

down, ice-cold like the fallen

brother of a marine.

by Sergio, 4th grade

Thank you, Sergio, for reminding us that the personal stories we tell can be powerful and beautiful.  Thank you for showing us that poetry can put us in touch with our deepest feelings and lay the groundwork for more writing.

By Marcia Chamberlain, Writers in the Schools

Without War is a Wish

Posted February 24, 2010 & filed under Notebook.

Touch that velvet sea
With these old fingers.
Peace be a song,
Silver pool of sadness.
Children whisper hopeful words.

These little memories are lost.

By Addison, 3rd grade
[photo by Jocelyn via flickr]

One Bullet

Posted July 8, 2008 & filed under Notebook.

Two soldiers point their guns at each other.
Do they know why?
Their mothers will never meet,
but both will cry.
Who will shoot first,
one man or the other?
What if, in reality,
they were brothers?
Both men, ready to fire,
neither ready to die.
Both men ready to fire,
neither knowing why.

by Shane, 10th Grade

After War

Posted April 24, 2008 & filed under Poem of the Day.

peace.jpgWar can be horrible and disturbing.
War can cause the trees and leaves to fall and wither away,
But then after it is gone, we can see
peace and quiet can come again.
The trees start spreading their leaves,

and the grass glows an emerald green.

By Said, age 15

(photo by Gracefoto<3 via flickr)