Driving a Compact

Writing Road Trip | Driving a Compact | Lisa BullardIn my town, par­al­lel park­ing was known as the “skill most like­ly to rat­tle” new dri­ving can­di­dates and ulti­mate­ly cause them to flunk their on-road dri­ving test.

Luck­i­ly for me, I was assigned a gigan­tic pick­up truck the day we prac­ticed par­al­lel park­ing in the stu­dent lot for Driver’s Ed class. By the time class was over, I could have wedged the Titan­ic between ice­bergs and come out safe­ly on the oth­er side (as long as the ice­bergs had high­ly vis­i­ble orange safe­ty cones stick­ing up out of the water). Learn­ing to “dri­ve big” served me very well; despite my com­plete lack of spa­tial sense or mechan­i­cal abil­i­ty, I passed my dri­ving test with flying colors.

In writ­ing, I actu­al­ly think the reverse might be true: gain­ing some ear­ly skills with a com­pact vehi­cle will serve stu­dents beau­ti­ful­ly when they move on to test out oth­er rides. Despite their often com­pact size, which makes poems look more approach­able to hes­i­tant stu­dent writ­ers (and of course you don’t have to tell them that “approach­able” doesn’t trans­late to “easy”), learn­ing the ele­ments that go into a strong poem will strength­en almost any oth­er kind of writ­ing stu­dents do.

Here are a few of the things that I think poems teach best:

  • Just a few words, as long as they are the right few, can be enough to con­vey a strong emo­tion or expe­ri­ence. While revis­ing, always look for ways you can cut out any excess so that the words you leave behind rise up from the page and grab the read­er by the throat.
  • Read­ing is a sen­so­ry activ­i­ty; engage the read­er by engag­ing all five senses.
  • Good writ­ing has music to it; play with your lan­guage until the words beat out a rhythm or sing a song for your reader.
  • Make the read­er pay atten­tion; find an unex­pect­ed or sur­pris­ing way to talk about some­thing too famil­iar or overlooked.

I’ve talked before about how Mag­net­ic Poet­ry can turn writ­ing into an actu­al tac­tile activ­i­ty that engages even the most reluc­tant young poets. Hand around cook­ie sheets and let the writ­ing begin! And if you don’t already have Mag­net­ic Poet­ry kits, there’s a way stu­dents can cre­ate their own Mag­net­ic Poet­ry words (you can buy mag­net­ic tape or pre-cut busi­ness-card sized mag­nets at office sup­ply and craft stores). Or why not cre­ate over-sized words so stu­dents can turn the sides of your classroom’s file cab­i­nets into poems as well?

Nation­al Poet­ry Month begins in just a few days, and poets will be shar­ing all sorts of writ­ing tips and tricks online; keep your eyes open for all the fan­tas­tic hints and activ­i­ties that “writ­ing com­pact” will bring.

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April Halprin Wayland
4 years ago

Lisa ~ I love your metaphor. The per­fect way to describe writ­ing a poem: dri­ving a com­pact. Thank you!