Publishing in Chalk

Sandy Day reads from a book.My children attended a tiny public alternative school in Toronto. Each year all families were encouraged to attend the graduation of the grade 6 class. This whole-school event was a tradition.

I appreciated the inclusive nature of our school’s pedagogy so I went and sat in the hot gymnasium to witness the graduation of eight children I did not know.

As the children read their speeches (which rivaled any Academy Award ceremony) I noticed an absence. What was it?

I recalled my own grade six year, eleven or twelve years old. What would I have said to my school?

Poetry! Poetry was missing! None of the children wrote poems to sum up their school experience, or to convey their gratitude. I was surprised.

The following September I approached Wayne, the school’s beloved Grades 4, 5, and 6 teacher. I asked him about poetry and offered to run a workshop in his class. He readily agreed and I began what became for me a delightful annual endeavour.

For six or eight weeks I would go into the class and guide these enthusiastic and imaginative kids to use words to paint sound pictures – poetry. Borrowing heavily from Kenneth Koch, a poet I read during my university years, I created a workshop which produced the desired result – confidence in the students’ ability to write.

The most extraordinary part of each class was when a student “finished” a poem, and I asked if they’d like to write it on the blackboard for all to see. At first there was some reluctance but once the thrill of publication coursed through the classroom there was an energy that defied even the dismissal bell.

Children jostled for their spot in the queue. There was only so much blackboard! They transcribed from their notebooks to the board their poem. I prompted them at this level to check spelling and punctuation and line break. I urged them to realize that any glitch could sink a whole poem.

Once the poem was thoroughly proof-read I called the class to attention. The poet became solemn and self-conscious. As the rest of the class read along silently with the blackboard version, the poet read his or her poem aloud. You could’ve heard a paper airplane land.

Always applause. Good, bad, or ugly, the children always applauded the courage and effort of their classmate. Then there were questions and comments. The poet squirmed in the limelight, then rushed to their seat when the fleeting moment of fame had passed.

And the next poet was ready, vibrating with excitement, “Can I read mine next, Sandy? Can I? Can I?”

Publication: the world stops whirling for a moment, and reads.

An Apology to Poets

Shakespeare portrait
Da Bard

True confession. Yes, I have a degree in English literature. Yes, I’ve read the “Faerie Queen” and “Leaves of Grass”. No, I don’t read poetry.

Why? Like most readers, I don’t get poetry. It’s difficult to read. It takes effort and time. I like to read stuff I quickly understand. Stuff which enters my brain and instantly computes. Granted, I’ve enjoyed poetry, sometimes. Especially when it’s explained to me!

But wait a minute, I write poetry! How is this possible?

I started writing poetry as soon as I learned how to use a pen. Poems just came out of me. How did I know what a poem was? Well, I was read to as a child. Bedtime stories were the poems of A. A. Milne and Robert Louis Stevenson. My mom disapproved of Dr. Suess, but she read me many other books like the long poem, “Madeline”. This doesn’t entirely explain my knack for writing free verse, but it will have to do for now.

So my apologies to all the poets in the world, alive and dead. I do read your stuff from time to time. Especially when you thrust it in front of my nose. And if it’s easy to read; if it flies off the page and into my brain and gives me that “Ahhhh” feeling, which a brilliant combination of words tends to do; I thank you! And I keep on writing in my quest to pass that feeling on to you.

butterflies are free!

I’m going on my first ever trip to Florida. I’ve seen pictures of the blue sky, the ocean, the palm trees and the enormous beach front hotels. It looks like the Florida of my imagination. I’m going there to vacation, to lie on the beach, to spend time with my friends, and to relax.

Relax? As a writer struggling to emerge from my 50 year old cocoon the notion of relaxation is as foreign to me as interest payments on my bank balance. I don’t want to relax! I want to be writing and creating and letting the world know I’m here and I believe I have something to say!

I’m not taking a computer. My desktop probably wouldn’t fit in my luggage. What’s a writer to do?

I write long-hand so all I need is a pen and paper, right? But what if I have no ideas? No inspiration? Last night the four short stories, which keep each other company in a dark file on my hard drive, called to me. Print us! Work on us!

So, voila! My Florida work is ready to go. I’m excited now to find some shade under a palm tree, to scratch and scribble and perhaps return with something that delights me. A week to write? Paradise.