I had a lot of fun visiting Amanda Low’s split grade 3-4 class and Marion Elizabeth Collins’ grade 6 class at Tecumseh Elementary School in East Vancouver on January 31! The visit was sponsored by the national Poet in School program run by the acclaimed non-profit organization, Poetry in Voice.
I was so impressed by the openness and enthusiasm of the teachers and students! This was my second time visiting Tecumseh. Last June, I gave a certificate of recognition to teacher Tilia Prior and her grade 7 class to thank them for all the poems that the students had submitted about Hogan’s Alley in Vancouver’s historic Black Strathcona to the City Poems Contest. Grade 7 student Sharon Pan won third place with her poem about Vie’s Chicken & Steak House.
(Note: The Vancouver School Board’s first Chinese Canadian teacher, Vivian Jung, was hired by Tecumseh in the 1940s. (Over half a century of racial segregation had prevented Asian Canadians, Blacks, and other visible minorities from various professions including teaching.) A lane is named after Jung in Vancouver’s West End, near the former “public” Crystal Pool (long gone) at Sunset Beach where she was famously barred from entry during a time of informal segregation in the city, prior to Asian Canadians finally getting vote in 1947 and 1949.)
For both classes, I read my poem “Z” (that was selected for TransLink’s Poetry in Transit program a few years ago), and handed out bookmarks based on the bus poster. It’s a light-hearted, accessible poem that employs metaphor, personification, alliteration, assonance, rhyme and half rhyme, and is meant to encourage and empower readers and writers of all ages to have fun with words.
With the split grade 3-4 class, we focused on concrete, visual or shaped poetry. I showed some of my plastic-themed poems shaped like a cup, bottle, and artificial/cut-out Christmas tree, as well as the short animated poetry video, “Plasticnic” (a wry commentary on the plastic used at picnics) that I made with talented ECUAD graduate, Tisha Deb Pillai. We looked at a few concrete poems by other poets, including ones shaped like a spider and a flowerpot too.
Fun with Concrete Poetry (Grade 3-4)
Next, I asked the students to think about a favourite thing—e.g. a creature, game, food, activity—and then try to create a picture using phrases or words associated with that thing. There was a fabulous array of word-pictures created related to a variety of topics: bunnies, cats, birthday cake, cherry blossoms, basketball, video games, TV, sleep, bubble gum, the city of Hamburg, and a stuffed toy duck, and much more! Here is a sampling of some of the students’ poems below:
After the other kids had gone outside for recess, one student with special needs stayed behind to proudly present his poem about his stuffed toy duck to his teacher, teaching assistant and me in front of the classroom! (Concrete poems seem to engage kids of all backgrounds. I had a similar experience last year with a split grade 5-6 class at David Lloyd George Elementary, where several students with learning challenges were inspired to create and present terrific pieces.)
With the grade 6 class, we looked at two of my poems and how I collaborated with animators and a filmmaker to turn them into poetry videos. “Merry” (made in collaboration with second year animation students Quinn Kelly and Lara Renaud) is about overconsumption, plastic pollution and the climate crisis, and “Utility Pole” (made in collaboration with Ontario videographer Mary McDonald) is about the 130 millions of trees logged to make telephone poles and the issue of deforestation. Students loved the slide of the beautiful lyric shaped poem by Luann Hiebert in the League of Canadian Poets’ anthology, Heartwood.
Collaborative Tree Poems and Poetry Videos (Grade 6)
Next, I asked the students to stand and to pretend to be trees by doing the tree pose in yoga, first rooting their feet, then balancing on one leg, then the other, trying to stand still and then to sway as if it were windy with their arms held up like branches. Energized, the students then paired up to read aloud excerpts of their recent class assignment where they pretended to interview trees. Each partner would listen and suggest a favourite line or two that would be written from the point of view of a tree on strips of paper. After my visit and their lunch break, the students continued to work in larger groups to assemble and order their lines into collaborative poems that you can see below:
They went even further and made terrific poetry videos based on their poems with the help of their teacher, paying attention to integrating sound, image and voice. These poetry videos can be found in an Update that is posted below!
UPDATE – Poetry Videos by Tecumseh students
Here are some of the videos that the students put together. Click on the images to go to Vimeo and then click the play icon to watch the videos.