So, I’ve been thinking about some of the work my 9th grade English class did this past year. I am quite new to teaching 9th grade English, so there are a lot of new assignments. However, one totally new assignment this year was blackout poetry. (Read about how Austin Kleon began writing these poems and check out his new poems and posts.)
My students had read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the NightTime for summer reading. We talked about it at the beginning of the year, wrote a short essay, moved on. Then it was time for some poetry. I wanted students to write as well as read poems. And, I thought blackout poetry might be less intimidating as a place to begin. So, I distributed copies of a slightly shortened review of an autistic friendly performance of the play in New York. I explained the basics of writing the poems, shared a video explanation on my course page on our learning management system, and then I waited.
In case you are not familiar with the average level of enthusiasm that is generated by poetry writing assignments in 9th grade, I will tell you. In my, admittedly limited experience, not much excitement gets turned in with those poems. There are those few students who are excited, but the mood is hardly festive. So, imagine my surprise when the class spilled in talking and bubbling about their poems. Of course, we had to put other plans on hold.
We put the desks in a big rectangle, spread the poems out, and walked around the room reading all the poems. Each student got 5 paperclips to “vote” for poems they found interesting (not necessarily good, but interesting). I don’t always like picking favorites like that, but there was so much commenting about what they liked, that this seemed a good way provide some time to read and “comment” quietly before we talked as a group.
Here’s what I liked about the assignment:
- It created a real buzz–other teachers did the assignment because their students heard about it and requested it!
- Students had obviously spent time thinking about the words and playing with language–VICTORY!
- Many of the poems looked interesting as well.
- We had a great conversation about student-written poetry.
- Did I mention they entered the room talking positively about the homework?!
Here are a few images of particular poems and the text. I have taken some liberties with line breaks.
He cannot stand the way everyone thinks
Because they don’t
People are too busy talking to look closely
He said the big difference between me and them
Is that I like know exactly what time it is
He watches his beloved house
On Sunday afternoon
The inviting houselights dim, soft
The landscape is an ideal setting
A quiet space on the road
He cannot stand loud noises
His father has betrayed him
One of his beloved
I covered my ears
The big difference I saw in the house on Sunday afternoon
The young man was there
Sound and light have been toned down for Sunday
Sound and light
Dim lighting allows for easier opening
Slashses of light framing the dog of darkness
On Sunday the dog will come
The world, you don’t want that lost
Families dealing with the emotional lives of others
He said, “the only think I can do is bring life
On Sunday people may groan and bark, stand up and walk out
It’s ready. This is Shakespeare
Knowing exactly what to be
And, once we were finished I decorated my office with them for a while.
Anyone have any experience with blackout poetry to share or suggestions to extend the work?