Thursday, May 21, 2009

Art and Poetry

Today we read "Invitation," by Shel Silverstein.

If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer...
If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
come in!
I thought it was a hard poem to understand. We started by asking questions about it, because I told them that when you read a hard poem, you ask yourself questions about it.

Who is he inviting in?
Where is he inviting them?
What are "flax-golden tales?"
Who is he calling a liar? Why?
(That word had a big impact on them.)
What inspired him to write this poem?

And then some students had some answers, and some surprisingly good ones. (I know, I shouldn't be shocked when they are thoughtful. I mean, I've known them to be quite smart and insightful for two years now, right?)

"I think he's inviting us into our imaginations," Aliyah said immediately. Wow.

"Why?" I asked. "What's your evidence?"

"Because he talks about dreaming, and wishing," she answered.

"I think it's about making up stories," Pria suggested. "Because he talks about spinning 'flax-golden tales,' and tales are like stories."

The idea then surfaced that he was inviting people to sit by a campfire (since he says "sit by my fire,") -- that it was about a camping trip, and they were telling stories around a campfire and roasting marshmallows. Ah well, can't completely escape the literal second-grade mind.

We talked about fairy tales, because that's what spinning "flax-golden tales" evoked in our minds (we thought about Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rumplestilstken, and other stories in which spinning figures), and because they asked about a "magic bean buyer" and we remembered Jack and the Beanstalk.

Ramon understood the poem deeply, from the beginning. He raised his hand over and over again, driven to share his ideas about imagination, inviting people in, and stories.

"You really understand poetry, and you really like it, don't you?" I asked him, smiling as I looked down at him on the rug.

"Yes," he answered.

"You know, I used to want you to go to art school," I said (because he is a very talented artist). "But now I want you to grow up and go to poetry school."

Instantly, he replied, "But poetry is like art."

"It is like art," I agreed, my smile widening and my heart getting a little fluttery at his marvelousness. "What do you mean? How are they the same?"

"When you write a poem, it's like making something up, the same as when you draw a picture or tell a story," he said. "And it's using your imagination."

If ever I thought poetry was too hard for second graders, I learned my lesson right then and there.

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