Writers in the Schools (WITS) Groups Celebrate National Poetry Month

Many WITS groups across the country celebrate April as National Poetry Month. Follow these links to find out all about it:

Many of the projects for National Poetry Month are online so you can participate, no matter where you live.

Sheryl Noethe Named the New Poet Laureate of Montana

Founder and Artistic Director of the Missoula Writing Collaborative, Sheryl Noethe, was named the Poet Laureate for the state of Montana. The Missoula Writing Collaborative is a member of the WITS Alliance.  Governor Brian Schweitzer wrote about Sheryl in his appointment letter:

I was particularly struck by your statement, “a few words from an adult can shape a child’s idea of who they are and who they can become.” Your commitment to teaching children that they “have the ability to find their own literary voice” is evidenced in your outstanding work in Montana schools.

For more information about Sheryl and the Missioula Writing Collaborative, click here. Sheryl’s two-year term begins in August 2011.

Detroit Poets from InsideOut Find Brave New Voices

InsideOut Literary Arts Project in Detroit has a lot to be proud of. This week they welcome back from San Francisco six student poets, where their team placed fourth at Brave New Voices, the national youth slam competition.

“This is not just a slam. These are words for a better tomorrow,” slam team member Justin Rogers proclaimed.   The WITS Alliance congratulates Justin Rogers, Devin Magee, Joseph Verge, Ariana Washington, Breeana Blackmon and Andrew Barnhill. You guys give us hope!

The Bronx Students Who Heard the Sound

Community Word Mural by 7th graders at PS/MS 279, Bronx

Each Writers in the Schools (WITS) program is unique. Community Word Project  in New York City is a great example. All of the WITS programs do culminating events to celebrate what students have learned over the past year. Community Word is the only group to transalate the groups writing into art. Here is one example of a community mural. It was written and created by 7th grade students at PS/MS 279 in the Bronx. Community Word is led by the Founding Director, Michele Kotler.

Key West Literary Seminar Shares Archival Collection

Key West Literary Seminar has added new lectures to their Audio Archives Project, presenting the finest recordings from acclaimed poets such as Poet Laureate Kay Ryan and past laureates Richard Wilbur, Billy Collins, Robert Pinsky, Rita Dove, Charles Simic, Maxine Kumin, and Mark Strand. The archive also houses lectures from historians Eric Foner and David Levering Lewis in addition to readings from Pulitzer Prize novelists Geraldine Brooks, Junot Diaz, and William Kennedy.

The Audio Archives Project is an essential resource for teachers and professors of literature. You can listen to the podcasts online and subscribe to current recordings via iTunes or through RSS feed.

Questions Without Answers by Nicole Callihan

“Is there anything in the world sadder

than a train standing in the rain?”

–Pablo Neruda

I’ve always loved Pablo Neruda’s poems. Ripe-apple-tender and wild-eyed, they’ve carried me from classroom to classroom for more than a decade as I’ve worked as a teaching artist in the New York Public Schools through Teachers & Writers Collaborative. One of my favorite lessons asks students to do nothing more than question the world. “Ask a question that can’t be answered,” I tell them. “Anything,” I say.  The students stare at me or gently rock or twirl hair around the tips of their fingers, but bit by bit—with the help of teachers and paraprofessionals and communication devices and speech therapists—their questions emerge.

Why don’t apples grow on pear trees?

Why doesn’t America have Founding Mothers?

Do broken hearts break things?

Why is night?

What is different? Why is different different?

I’ve been working with these same students for the past three springs, all of whom are middle school-aged and considered to be on the “lower end” of the autistic spectrum, and each time I return to them after a long city winter, they disarm me.  To be quite honest, it almost always feels like we’re starting from the very beginning. I hold up a poem on a piece of paper, and week after week, I ask them, “How do we know this is a poem?” And week after week, I wait. Today, lesson five, the room promised as much silence as ever, but then James spoke. “Space?” he said, more of a question than an answer. And I clapped and jumped, and Yes, James, yes, we know it’s a poem because there’s SPACE!

Eighteen months ago I gave birth to my daughter, Eva, and immediately she carved out this frighteningly tender spot in my heart. It’s strange because mornings, before I go teach, I do the same sort of exercises with her that I do to warm up my students. And this is your nose, and these are your toes, and where o where are those pretty elbows? The fact that my students are so much older than Eva—and so trapped in their pubescent early teenage bodies and in their very different working minds—is sometimes difficult for me to take.

Motherhood has cast my work with these students in a special, harsher light. If I think about it too hard—and sometimes I do because, I believe, as writers and artists and compassionate beings we must—this discrepancy threatens to disable me. It’s such a reminder of how unfair the world is, of how unequal we all are, of how many questions there are that fly so  wildly around refusing to be pinned down by any single answer.

It’s at those times that I have to remind myself to see the world a bit more like Neruda does—as unanswerable and surreal and magical, as a train standing in rain—knowing that, sometime soon, either the rain will stop or the train will pull away, and I will be left standing oh-so-near the tracks, weighed down only by poetry and love.

Nicole Callihan works with Teachers and Writers Collaborative, a sister organization  in New York City. Her poems, stories, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Painted Bride Quarterly, Salt Hill, Washington Square, and New York Quarterly. She was a finalist for the Iowa Review’s Award for Literary Nonfiction and was named as Notable Reading for Best American Non-required Reading. She teaches at New York University and in schools and hospitals in New York City.

Aroostook Review Features WITS Students from Maine

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Fort Kent WITS Writers and their students gather for an Earth Celebration. (April 2009)

The most recent issue of the Aroostook Review, an online literary journal published the University of Maine at Fort Kent, features a number poems by WITS students from Maine. The University of Maine at Fort Kent’s English Program offers a WITS training course which offers both theoretical and experiential components for undergraduate and graduate students. The WITS program in Fort Kent was founded by Geraldine Cannon Becker. For more information about WITS at UMFK, click here.

“Alley Cat” is a poem by a six year old Maine student:

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Alley Cat

It’s just an old alley cat,

a bag of old bones.

It has no proud tiger stripes.

It can’t even reach its bowl.

It hasn’t a star on its head.

Though, we shall call you pretty…

“Pretty, come in.”

by Joanna, age 6

Back to School: Great Books for Teaching Writers

As the new school year looms ahead in the not-so-distant future, it might be a good moment to restock your library of teaching materials. Teachers & Writers Collaborative has published more than 80 books to support WITS teaching. Favorite resources for writers who teach include:

Poetry Everywhere: Teaching Poetry Writing in School and in the Community, by Jack Collom and Sheryl Noethe, contains 60 writing exercises and more than 450 example poems by children, teachers, and poets. It also discusses how to integrate poetry writing into the English class, sound and rhythm, using great poems as models, traditional poetic forms, poetry units, investing and adapting exercises, revision, publishing, and other essential topics.

The Adventures of Dr. Alphabet: 104 Unusual Ways to Write Poetry in the Classroom and in the Community, by Dave Morice, features innovative ideas for engaging students, including poetry mobiles, poetry robots, postage stamp poems, rolodex poems, chopstick quatrains, and other inventive exercises.

Old Faithful: 18 Writers Present Their Favorite Writing Assignments, edited by Christopher Edgar and Ron Padgett. In this book, 18 writers describe their single best writing assignment: the one that never fails to inspire students to write autobiographical pieces, fiction, poetry, and plays.

In addition to books, T&W publishes the quarterly Teachers & Writers magazine, winner of 10 Educational PressAwards for Excellence. The magazine covers contemporary issues and innovations in creative writing education, and engages writers, educators, and students in a conversation on the nature of creativity and the imagination.

To see the full catalog of books offered by T&W, to read a sample article from Teachers & Writers, or to order books or a subscription, go to the T&W website. You can also place orders via phone (toll-free) at 1-888-BOOKS-TW.

Badgerdog at Round Top

On Friday, April 17, as part of National Poetry Month, Badgerdog will once again partner with the Poetry at Round Top Festival. Students from Ojeda Junior High, Del Valle Junior High, Del Valle Opportunity Center and Del Valle High School will spend the day at the International Festival Institute at Round Top, where they will take part in poetry writing and performance workshops with award-winning authors Jeff Stumpo and Jenny Browne. Badgerdog instructors, along with English teachers from all four schools, will participate in a morning workshop with renowned poet and University of Texas professor Dean Young.

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Founded in 1971, the International Festival Institute hosts exceptional year-round education and performance programs. This is the second year Badgerdog has partnered with the Poetry at Round Top Festival.  To read more about the International Festival Institute, please click here.  To sign up for the Poetry Festival click here.