A snapshot of an extended assignment & discussion
Which came first, the chicken or the egg poetry? A recent study suggests that though chickens were domesticated from about 7,000-10,000 years ago, we didn’t really eat these precious culinary proteins until about 2,200 years ago, 200 BCE. Poetry, on the other hand, was sung before we wrote it, and, you guessed it, before we ate chicken. The first written poem came around 3,400 BCE.
Have we ignored history—again? Are we moving forward in the present, hopeful with fingers crossed that the future will parade differently than the past? But do we have it wrong? In the last decades of teaching college writing, especially, teaching composition, my teaching philosophies have evolved, but one principle has ever remained, and for my students, I try to channel their approach and their mindset to sense, act, and reflect as if they were poets—to think like a poet. Using a poetic mindset to write composition papers.
It’s backwards. Rather than have composition as a prerequisite for creative writing, we need to flip it upside down, put back to front and front to back. We need creative writing, and more specifically poetry as a prerequisite for composition.
Let me try to explain. Creative writing, the course, has a prerequisite of a college level composition course. And as I divulge to my classes every semester on the first day, I propose, out loud and with a prominent voice, “Composition is not the course to learn how to write. If we are here today, we know how to write. Composition, instead, is but a journey to the critical reflection of our writing. Here, we will try and learn how to alter, or better yet, to rethink our approach to writing, focusing on the precision and conciseness of language, style and personality. We will start thinking like poets. We will maintain, what I like to call, our ‘poetic perception.’”
Though just saying “poetry” in a class, frightens students, so in this case, I reassure them that the expectation is NOT to be a poet and write a perfect Shakespearian sonnet, for instance. The expectation, then, is to understand how to write a sonnet, so we can apply that mindset to the writing of a composition paper. In other words, we write sonnets, not to be poets, but to be better writers in general.
Speaking of sonnets, the first lesson in my composition class is to learn the Shakespearian sonnet. We look at the patterns such as rhyme and iambic pentameter. Students are then asked to write a Shakespearian sonnet, practicing those patterns. Students start to understand the pains of word choice and rhythm, placing words into the iambic form or altering words to fit the rhyme scheme. And I must admit, I enjoy watching students practice English math, counting on their fingers and chanting, “da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM.”
Once students understand the pains and pleasures of writing a traditional poem, they are asked to think about and practice techniques such as word choice and sentence style in their analysis papers…use a poetic mindset to write. To celebrate my student’s journey, below are several of their sonnets. This assignment asked that they write nontraditional sonnets with ten-syllable lines. All other techniques they may have used were to their discretion. These sonnets are first drafts with minimal edits, and remember, they are not poets or have much experience with poetry. I hope you enjoy as I did:
Chef’s Kiss by Shalyce Alexander
I love unapologetic women:
You know the ones who cuss and spit at men,
the ones that have face tattoos and tongue rings.
I love precisely calculated women:
Like Aunties who gently slide you their drink,
just as your mother turns her back to breathe,
or women at clubs who have extra tampons
that urge you to leave your abusive boyfriend.
I love reckless waves that favor my flow
and single moms working at drive- thrus,
pumping breaks to avoid mastitis;
Grandmother moon for her pomegranates
and women who birth with no Pitocin.
I love unapologetic women.
The Big “O” by Julian Bridges
What makes you climax, my love? Please explain.
Warm my body up—foreplay is the goal.
The dew between my thighs without a touch,
let your words drip down our spirit and soul
with every sigh, my clothes shed away.
Alive, your kiss, my navel to my pearl.
The touch, your phallus, and the swirl make me
quench my body thirst for your pelvic thrust.
Straddle up and take control of me, please.
Gazing into the sun, a moonless night,
ecstasy is taking us for a ride.
My clitoris is about to pour out,
our bodies about to reach the peak, we
summit—same time. No one unsatisfied.
One Last Chance by Yared Perez
The game restarts—to all, it’s near its end.
The ball is passed through ground and through the air,
one side takes the ball to the other side.
They move with pace to beat the other team.
Tackles fly from left to right, unannounced,
with grace and style the player runs from all.
He is clear on goal with one left to beat.
He shoots the ball, which bests the last and scores--
the crowd goes wild, the bench jumps up with joy.
A chant is sung aloud, “We won! We won!”
The team joins up with its newfound hero,
they raise the one who won it all, for them.
The ref blows to call an end to the game--
a game to recall, now and evermore.
The Desiderium of One Body by Sophia Ignatenko
My weary world inspires me to write.
How I despise the way you reign my muse
seated in my mind, day and through the night
while I fervidly dream of whys and who’s.
You seem not to see my mad heart inside
steel nights of silent doubt, rust days of threat.
You seem to bury my fathomless sigh.
My wight notion wishes on you, kismet
I crave your calm refuge from thoughts you plant
in reminiscences from the time slipped by,
but nary an explanation to grant.
My weary world, today where do you lie?
Now I must away with a bemused tear
keep my worn words from what you forsook here.
Beginning of the End by Jadon McCaskey
Pocket change rattles and I am done for;
the gun spouts the casing and lands on me;
they will find me hiding beneath the floor;
I hold my breath as my enemies flee.
Crawling out from underneath, I sigh;
sitting up and seeing bodies I know,
of course, my final job has gone awry--
On to old tricks and new jobs I now go.
The heartstrings pulled thin, I cannot pretend,
I must find a way out and not be vile.
I do hope this is a means to an end.
Although my dream is over, I still smile.
I found a new path to do what I like;
old tricks stay old as I will never fight.
Broken by Moises Silva
I walk in daylight through the beaches shore,
wondering how you and I came to be.
It's like we both resemble hermit crabs,
waiting for one mistake to cause a crash;
though, it may seem like it's all done for love,
we are like two lions chasing for the throne.
If one of us doesn’t win, we cause a scene
no matter what we do. There's no way out.
It's impossible to find a sweet dream
that we hope can't cause us any pain.
We try looking for that one perfect shell;
though, all we find is traits of broken hearts.
But are hearts flatter when we lock our eyes,
though, we know we have no chance to survive?
Climbing Mt Baldy by Andrew Case
Men and boys wake up from a deep slumber.
Sloth like apes prepare for a hardy day:
boots strapped on, packs slung over red shoulders,
marched on the trail by the reigning Boy Scout.
Glancing at my map step by step we hike,
switchback by switchback the trailhead creeps near.
A brief lunch is allowed before the climb:
protein bars consumed we start our climb up:
Step by step Baldy Mountain gets steeper,
each step Baldy Mountain fights more and more.
Not deterred, we see Baldy’s balding crown,
men and boys rush up joyful filled with glee.
Tired, we rest upon the bald giant’s head;
in peace, we gaze upon where we have come.
Hot and Ready by Luke Sargent
In the dead of night I check my freezer.
Thank God, I sigh. It’s time for Digiorno’s.
A half hour later, I’m ready to dig in.
When, to my surprise, it’s more than pizza:
the lightly tanned crust, baked to perfection,
the pepperoni’s glimmer in the light,
the cheese, not too hot, not too cold, just right.
Am I in love with my frozen pizza?
Could this, perhaps be, love at the first bite?
The smell of the meat lover’s delight is
tantalizing, tempting, and delicious.
I bring the slice to my lips with a grin.
I was wrong; this shit is so undercooked.
Screw this! I’m just gonna order takeout.
The Lion’s Den by Beo Tamasi
The Arena was packed with savage fiends.
Their hero soaked in blood and glowing pride,
a vile man who kills for pay yet gleams.
The King sends sinless men to death with snide,
a young pirate is next to meet his fate.
Eerie chanting breaks out, the King turns pale.
They shout, bring the lion out, raise the gate!
Slim and short, but with dark eyes, far from frail,
the soldier’s blood ran cold; the pirate grinned.
Without time to react, the pirate lunged.
The soldier, tall and strong, was quickly pinned.
The King rose from his throne, the dagger plunged,
a crime riddled convict saw the man’s soul.
He stopped his reign—the King was his next goal.
A Better Day by Anthony Azzopardi
The early sun peaks over the morn clouds;
The smell of coffee fills the room with joy.
As men and women commute to their place,
they must wait for the starting horn to sound.
The luscious course instills strong impatience,
a sense of competitiveness is clear.
The gentleman in red is set to play--
he loads up, and the round is underway.
The sky slowly fills with immense darkness;
suddenly, a defining siren is heard
followed by a thunderous beam of light.
A concourse of people seeking shelter
and yet, his determination must wait
for a day that is better than today.