Earlier this month, I visited Ms. Luice Kim’s grade 11 and grade 12 English classes at Royal Canadian College high school in South Vancouver as part of the Poet in School program. (Photo of the grade 12 class below.)
The Poet in School program is run by the wonderful non-profit organization, Poetry in Voice, that provides resources for teaching and learning poetry in Canada with the mission to inspire students to read, recite and write poetry. Through Poetry in Voice, I’ve visited a number of schools, either online (during the earlier part of the pandemic) and in person, as well as participated as a juror in the online national recitation contest this past spring, and as a judge for the live team regional recitation competition in the past.
After a quick overview of the components of sound, structure and imagery in poetry, we looked at how to create metaphors and similes. With the image of a full moon projected at the front of the room, each class was asked to create three different metaphors and similes about the moon that I could collate and turn into a collaborative poem. I urged them to come up with wild and weird comparisons to challenge me. And they certainly did!
I did a follow up visit via Zoom so I could share the process of how the students’ various metaphors were grouped together to develop a kind of narrative and lyric thread with tonal shifts between stanzas. They could also see what was added as mortar to make all the different parts cohere as the collaborative poems were built from the ground up. I thanked them for inspiring me!
Below are the two collaborative poems assembled with metaphors generated by each class, accompanied by an audio-recording of my reading each one! (I’ve put the students’ metaphors/similes in bold-face type.)
(Grade 12 Collaborative Class Poem at Royal Canadian College High School with Fiona Tinwei Lam)
Moon, you shining beast,
sometimes your ball of light
hangs suspended in the black sky
like a disco ball
that makes the night dance.
Sometimes, your light is like a big Camaro,
blocking up the shimmering
of the stars we long to see.
Other times you flicker
like a candle or a broken light bulb,
your faraway desert and plains
Sometimes, you’re like the white face
of a person staring at me,
with eyes that scrutinize
my every flaw.
But I see your flaws too, Moon.
Last winter, you were ugly—
like a bald head under a flashlight
or a light bulb covered with dirt.
You were like a muddy snowball stuck
in someone’s fence. And last month,
like an overripe banana.
But this spring, you’re different!
You’re like a brand new eraser wiping out
daytime mistakes from everyone’s pages.
You’re like a big fat cheese pizza,
a vanilla-frosted birthday cake, or just
a pretty white porcelain bowl full of rice
for everyone to eat.
(Grade 11 collaborative poem at Royal Canadian College High School with Fiona Tinwei Lam)
On hungry nights
when you hang in the sky like an empty plate,
let’s pretend you are a mooncake
or a plump rice ball.
On nights we can’t sleep,
you seem most like a sugar cube, corners dissolving
in a cup of black coffee.
Sometimes you’re adorned in white silk,
or the sun’s gold yarn,
or opaque with an icy lake’s grey palette.
Are you lonely? You’re so separate
from the stars, rolling in slow motion
like a single wheel or silver tire
across the night, glinting
like the last shiny bullet in the pistol
of a man pondering suicide.
Some nights, you’re a scythe
or a sickle slicing away darkness.
Other times, a sharp hook holding up the black sky
that blankets this sleepy world.
Maybe you are the eyeball
of a poet staring down at us,
a mirror of our dreams
But for tonight you are a shy girl
hiding behind the clouds,
suddenly appearing in the dark,
a smiling face.
Both classes also participated in a class exercise to write poems inspired by ordinary objects. After reading one of my odes to ordinary things, “Ode to Chopsticks,” I asked them to choose an item to write about from the array of ordinary objects I’d set out on a desk. With the grade 11 class, I asked them to pretend to take on the character of the object itself, and write as if it were speaking. With the grade 12 class, I asked them to do mind maps first, writing out sensory associations they had with those words (taste, touch, texture, sounds, smells, colours, etc.) before trying to write a short draft poem. I looked at the draft poems that were created afterward. I was delighted at the wonderful, humorous and whimsical pieces that emerged–these objects took on personalities! Here are a few examples from the grade 11 class–one about a tiny yellow canoe, another one about a candle and another about a pine cone (with some moon metaphors on the page behind it).