Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Power of Poetry Project: 2013-14


On March 27, 2014, proud students, their families, and educators filled the gym at the Jerry Ross Elementary School for the Fourth Annual P.O.P.P. Awards event.  P.O.P.P committee members Katherine Flotz and Judy Whitcomb organized the event along with Katherine’s husband George, Judy’s grandson Louie Cortez, and poet Beverly Stanislawski.

The Power of Poetry Project annually partners with elementary schools to recognize young poets’ creativity and talent.  Sponsored by the Indiana Writers’ Consortium (IWC) and generously funded primarily by the Crown Point Community Foundation along with private donors, P.O.P.P. presents awards to students at the local school level and the regional level.  This year three area schools participated in the awards event:

                                                Lake Street Elementary School
                                                Cindy Wise Principal
                                                Carey Govert, librarian
                                                Solon Robinson Elementary School
                                                Barbara L. Merrill, principal
                                                Fiona McCarroll, media specialist
                                                Jerry Ross Elementary School
                                                Jennifer Stolarz, principal.

The project began in late summer 2013 when a grant was prepared and then submitted to the Crown Point Community Foundation by September 1st.  In October, once the P.O.P.P committee received notification that the project had been funded, we solicited schools and additional funders. In November, a kick off took place at participating schools when committee members presented the project to fourth and fifth grade students as well as staff members.  Teachers were asked to have dedicated class time devoted to the reading and writing of poetry. Students were encouraged to explore multiple poetic forms and to begin writing. 

 In January, all submitted poems were collected from the schools.  All students who submitted a poem received a P.O.P.P. pin.  In February, a judging team anonymously selected the winning poems.  This year there were over five hundred poems. First, second, and third place poems were chosen from each school in both grade levels.  These were the winners at the school level.  Winning poems then moved to the regional level where overall first, second, and third place poems were selected at each grade level. All other regional level poems were awarded Honorable Mention.  All regional level poems were published in the P.O.P.P. Poetry Book.  We also recognized and awarded students who contributed artwork to the book.

 An additional event was added to the project this year.  On Saturday, March 29th, P.O.P.P. winners were invited to read their poems at the Crown Point Library. The room provided overflowed with standing room only as many of our young poets shared their poems with the large audience.

The P.O.P.P. committee and IWC proudly recognize all of the students who entered the competition and their parents and teachers who supported them in their efforts.  Our time spent on preparing for and conducting the project is always rewarded as we call up each award winner and see how proud he or she is of his or her accomplishment. We know students are being impacted in a positive way.  Katherine Flotz lives near Lake Street Elementary School, and last week she found a note in her mailbox. It was from a young man in fourth grade at Lake Street. It stated:

Dear POPP Ladies,

      Thank you for the awesome award. I really appreciate your group working with us.

From Owen Walkowiak

And you know what, Owen and all of our other participants?

We really appreciate you.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

21st Century Skills and Student Reading

Gordon Stamper, Jr.
The 21st Century Skills movement is an across-the-curriculum teaching pedagogy that has the ultimate goals of preparing students for the current job market and achieving future career success.  Two stated objectives are to improve students’ critical thinking and reading skills, and to promote creativity.  However, a recent example shows how practitioners can contradict their own goals. 
In Elgin, Illinois, School Superintendent Jose Torres and the school board are finalizing the decision to cut Reading classes from the middle school required curriculum.  Torres argued at a recent school board meeting that a second school hour could be opened up for electives.  Currently, only one hour is available for electives and English is already a required class in which reading skills units could be incorporated (Gathman, “Dozens Slam Change”).
On a news radio program, Torres also asserted that “[m]any classes in many grades focus on tales or stories” but sacrifice the reading and writing of facts needed for real world skills (Gathman, “U46’s Torres”).  School districts around the country are in agreement, feeling nonfiction should have greater emphasis in the classroom.
But even nonfiction needs compelling storytelling to engage a reader.  Many people read a biography to see how the hero/protagonist, who happens to be a real-life person, will overcome his or her obstacles and achieve success.  Instructors are continually being challenged to find real life stories engaging enough for their younger audiences.  The educational stakes are high as well in Indiana, as a sample comparison of ISTEP scores in Hammond bears out:  a 56.7% overall passing rate for Morton Elementary students, which drops to a 48% rate for Scott Middle School (Moxly and McInerny).
Too often the scapegoat for educational ills is the study of literature and those impractical liberal arts.  Many of these accusers do not realize the need for exposure to metaphor and symbolism in fiction and poetry to inspire student discussion and commentary.  Often nonfiction will lead to a “just the facts” discussion of the content and not encourage abstract thinking.  Also, students need exposure to works that are cultural touchstones.  What knowledge base for critical thinking will students have without the benefit of being exposed to the prior knowledge and wisdom that literature and more reading in general offer?
Yet, Torres may realize this.  What he may have needed was a pedagogical reason for making cuts, using the 21st Century Skills tenets as justification.  Probably, this is a financial decision at its core, a convenient way to slash the budget by RIFing (Reducing in Force) a relatively expensive group of experienced, licensed reading teachers (Gathman, “U46’s Torres”).  In the meantime, a foundational part of a student’s ability to critically read and creatively think continues to erode.
Works Cited
Gathman, Dave.  “U46’s Torres seeking to explain controversial change in middle school
            reading requirement.”  The Elgin Courier-News 17 March 2014.  Web.  22 March
---.  “Dozens slam change to middle school reading.”  The Elgin Courier-News 18 March
2014.  Web.  22 March 2014.
Moxly, Elle and Claire McInerny.  “Sortable Table:  ISTEP+ Results by Individual School.”
            StateImpact (Indiana Public Radio).  2014.  Web.  21 April 2014.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Visual Art and Broadside

Julie Demoff-Larson
Think about your favorite poem or a poem you wrote. Now visualize the imagery in the poem. Can you create a piece of art based on that imagery?
It isn’t a far jump from the poetic form into the visual arts. They go hand in hand and a collaboration of the two can produce a powerful statement. This partnership is called visual poetry. The poet/artist takes images out of the poem and onto a canvas in a multitude of forms. It can take on the form of collage, sculpture, or multi-media that visually replicates themes, subjects, and even the process of the poet. However, a poet may be inclined to create an art piece that does not draw from a word or phrase pulled from the poem, but instead offer an artistic piece that conjures up alternative meanings or connotations.
Certain forms of poetry already rely heavily on visual aspects such as concrete and alter poetry, along with the father of experimental poetry, e.e. cummings.
Buffalo Bill's
               who used to
               ride a watersmooth-silver
        and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat
        he was a handsome man
                             and what i want to know is
        how do you like your blueeyed boy
        Mister Death
– e.e. cummings
Broadsides are a form of visual art that is regaining popularity with the resurgence of book arts. Broadsides are traditionally print publications on large sheets of paper that are printed only on one side. Think in terms of the penny-press or “The Declaration of Independence” as reference. Small press publishers and journals are turning to broadsides for aesthetic value and supply cost savings. However, broadsides are labor extensive because, unlike contemporary printing methods, they require manual settings of wood type that fills every inch of the paper with poetry. The outcome of each poster is unique and flawed in some capacity, yet beautiful for those same reasons. Because they are labor intensive, smaller individual broadsides that serve one poem with complimentary art have become an attractive way to keep the tradition alive. Smaller forms don’t have to be type-set but can actually be handmade using a variety of materials. Many poets use this visual art form to promote their work, which places them in a more active role in the arts community as galleries seek out these art forms to show. Give it a try.  Experiment and maybe you will find your niche. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Landays: Unveiling the Poetry of Afgan Women

Shelby Engelhardt
In Afghan culture, poetry is revered in high literary circles; however, there is a form of spoken poetry that is steeped deep in Afghan tradition called the landay, which is not highly revered. The landay is a couplet which is often sung to the beat of a hand drum. Music was banned by the Taliban from 1996 to 2001, and in some places, still is. The landay typically has 22 syllables: nine in the first line, 13 in the second and ends with the sound “ma” or “na.” They often do not rhyme. Landays, within their two lines, poignantly convey love, grief, and despair. They are created and sung by Pashtun women who reside between the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“You sold me to an old man, father.
 May God destroy your home, I was your daughter.”
                The Pashtun people are often illiterate, and the landay is often anonymous. The couplet is very powerful which contradicts our thought of a muted woman beneath a heavy burqa, but it is not only the subject matter which make them risqué. Singing, in the Afghan culture, is linked to licentiousness. Often a woman who is caught singing is considered a prostitute. Poetry, especially poetry about love, is off limits to Afghan women: it implies dishonor and free will.  The use of the oral tradition allows women to remember and recite poems that are not only their own, but others have written and are relatable to them. The fact that these poems are not written down means that they cannot not be destroyed by anyone and can continue to be passed down throughout the generations. The landay is a way for the Pashtun women to express their feelings toward family, love, war, and living conditions they face.
“I’ll make a tattoo from my lover’s blood
 and shame every rose in the green garden.”
                Today, with technology, landays have seen some changes, but they are still standing strong. Young women are able to share their landays on social media and the words of their work reflect the changing times. However, this does not mean that it is acceptable in their culture for them to create or sing them.
“How much simpler can love be?
  Let’s get engaged now. Text me.”
 Author Eliza Griswold, and photographer Seamus Murphy, are working to collect landays from the Pashtun women so they may be shared with the world. You can learn more about their endeavors and read some of the works collected at

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Ten Tips to Overcome Your Intimidation of Poetry

Shelby Englehardt
Poetry can be a very expressive and intimate form of communication, but many writers see it as intimidating. I know there have been many times that I have started writing a poem, thought to myself, “Man, I wish I were much better at this,” and walked away from a half written poem. Recently, I have started to look for ways to improve my poetry. Since it is National Poetry Month, I thought I would take this opportunity to share some tips with you.
1.       Use a thesaurus. Vary your word usage. If you don’t have a paper thesaurus, use one on the internet.
2.       Try your hand at different forms of poetry. Most of us stick to free-style poems, but venture out into a new form. Sometimes having a set form as a guide makes it easier to focus on the thought you wish to convey.
3.       Learn about different types of rhyme. End word rhyme schemes are not the only ones that exist. Study different schemes and dare to use one.
4.       Take as long as you need. Rarely is a poem written in 10 minutes and perfect. Writing poetry is no different than any other form of writing. Many times it takes sleeping on it and editing it later to produce a finished product.
5.       Read more poetry. We, as writers, learn by reading. The novelist is sure to read many novels before completing their own, and poets are no different.
6.       Learn to analyze poetry. Break the poetry you are reading down into stanzas, verses, and meters. Look at what makes the poem work. How does the author use the words on the page to convey their thought, literally and figuratively? How does the author use white space to contribute to content?
7.       Write more poetry. They do say practice makes perfect.
8.       Read your poetry aloud. Reading your work aloud gives you a sense of how natural it sounds. Forced flow is not conducive to poetry, so make sure it sounds organic and flowing.
9.       Live life! It is easier to write about things you have experienced. Go live your life and use your experiences as a basis for your poems. Travel! Endeavor to see the world through a writer’s eyes.
10.   Seek out and listen to critiques. Just as with all writing, peer review is an absolute must. Look for someone who will be honest with you and will give helpful feedback.
These tips may not make you the next William Butler Yeats, but they will give you a great start to learning to be more comfortable with writing poetry. Why not take out a blank sheet and give it a shot?