After wowwing the delegation from Kirgizstan I spent the next three days teaching haiku and public speaking skills to the sixth graders at at Bay Village Middle School with my partner in rhyme Sara Holbrook. We hiked around the environs near the school, across soccer fields, peering onto groundskeeper’s sheds trudging through woods (I swear that’s not poison ivy) and plotting against the other groups being led by Sara.
We were just a part of an outdoor experience week that the sixth grade class was participating in as part of their year ending program. They also had classes in orienteering, hiking, ecology, recycling, etc. We ended our part of the conglomeration with a Head to Head Haiku Single Elimination Sudden Death Match. The contest was devised by a friend of ours from Chicago – that bastion of poetry competition – Dan Ferri. It's based on a sumo wrestling format and taken seriously over the top by the person MC’ing the event, which of course was me. Sara manned the gong. This was the first time I have tried this event with middle schoolers and I have to admit – it went great and will now be a permanent part of my repertoire.
I am finding more and more that exercises and activities I use in creative writing classes really have no age boundaries. If it works with a third grader it works with an MFA creative writing candidate - in fact the two groups actually share the same peer pressure spawned neurosis.
The basic principles of good writing transcend age, ego and book assignments based on academic affiliated back scratching. The main difference I see is once we get past middle school we wring all the fun out of creative writing trying to turn it into some secret reserved for the more serious.
Meanwhile, all our most successful writers and poets (i.e. those that make a living off of writing outside of the hallowed halls of terminally degreed tenure tracks – you know, those whose books actually SELL) brandish a bit of whimsy and humor with their craft. Of course – if the work is in the least bit accessible or worse yet, popular in any fashion it is derided by the aforementioned cannibalistic and cabalistic cliques.
This is one reason I have gravitated to working with younger folks even though doing so may at times lower the status my work may hold with that other bunch. This reminds me of a favorite quote by young adult author friend of mine, Jane Yolen – she of hundreds of books lining library shelves. When asked by folks does she ever think she’ll graduate to writing for adults she answers the query deadpan with a question – “Would you ever ask a pediatrician if they plan on graduation and treating adults?”
Okay, I’ve meandered a bit here. Bottom line… The kids had a blast – they were excited – they were clapping – they were cheering each other on – all over their own writing which they were presenting on stage. I wonder who will be their first educator to tell them to quit making so much noise?