November 18, 2005

Snowflakes, Shotguns, and Poetry

My first year students were hyper today, filled with all kinds of restless energy. They woke up this morning to the first real snow of the season. We've had some snow in the last month, but this was the first real accumulation. Enough snow for snowball fights and sledding. Enough snow to make mittens and snowplows necessary. The kind of fluffy white snow that adds graceful curves to a city campus and makes it suddenly beautiful.

My students live in the building that my classroom is in, and often they stumble to my 8:30 class a bit sleepily on a Friday morning. Today, though, they seemed wide awake as they stared eagerly out the big windows at the view of other students slipping and sliding across snow-covered sidewalks, hurling snowballs at each other. I'd had a long walk from my office in the falling snow, and the students who milled about me kept saying, "Look at all the snowflakes in your hair!" Some of them even touched my hair, like a little kid would, in a manner that was so innocent that I found it sweet.

Of course, the other reason for the suppressed excitement in the room is that tomorrow is opening day of shotgun season. Many of my students are hunters, and some will be driving home tonight to meet up with relatives and friends, to drink and tell hunting stories around a fire before getting up in the dark tomorrow morning to tramp through the woods, gun in hand, following deer tracks through the fresh snow.

I decided to make use of the energy in the room, and we spent the first fifteen minutes of class writing a collaborative poem about snowfall. I passed out index cards and announced that each student needed to contribute a few lines. Many of the students, especially my construction management majors, my chemists, and my engineers, protested that they didn't write poetry. Some were pretended to be appalled that I was making them write poetry in a composition class, especially at a school mainly devoted to science. I told them to shut up and write some poetry anyhow.

When all twenty students had handed in the index cards, I shuffled them and read them aloud. The results were amazing: some lines were funny, some lyrical, some profound. The poem included lovely descriptions, nice touches of humor, and bits of narrative. Definitely it captured the excitement of the first big snowfall. When I finished reading it, one of the students said, "That was so much better than I thought it would be."

Another student said, "You were right. I guess we can write poetry."

15 comments:

Running2Ks said...

What a wonderful discovery for them. Great job. You took their child-like happiness and awoke their youthful curiosity to make art. So sweet.

Lilian said...

Yes, that was neat. Everyone whould know that they *can* write poetry.

I feel we could use some snow down here :) I love snow, particularly because I had never seen or experienced until I was 25 years old. I'm utterly fascinated by it stil.

mc said...

What a great moment, jo(e). I think that's really what teaching's about -- showing someone that she *can* do something that she didn't think she could.

peripateticpolarbear said...

Perhaps I'll try this with my scientist dad this weekend!

Ianqui said...

I will say something I've thought for the millionth time when reading writing/lit profs blogs: I wish my discipline lent itself to this kind of exercise.

Sfrajett said...

Awesome exercise! I wonder what the world would be like if more people realized they themselves are capable of creating beauty, not just consuming it?

Jenevieve said...

Do we get to read it?

CarpeDM said...

That's nice. I've always loved what I like to consider "a-ha" moments, when someone realizes that, "Hey, I get this. I can totally do this."

One of the best things about poetry is that it comes in all shapes and sizes and is sometimes not what you expected at all.

purple_kangaroo said...

I love that. One of my favorite classes in college was poetry writing--I actually got to take poetry writing for a whole semester!

Teri said...

Snow makes me hyper too, and I'm a wee bit older than your students (*cough, cough*). Hunting, though, not so much. The site of deer carcasses strapped to cars makes me feel physically ill. I like the idea of using all of that energy for the collaborative poetry a lot.

Seeking Solace said...

Shotgun season started today in my neck of the woods. Where I grew up, the first day of shotgun season was more like a holiday. Schools were closed and most people had the day off from work. Sores even advertised "Deer Widow" sales.

What a great way to introduce poetry! I am so glad that your technical students embraced it. What they probably realized is that both require the same creative process.

jo(e) said...

Seeking Solace: This is the first year that the season has started on a Saturday instead of a Monday. I think businesses and schools complained about so many people taking the day off.

Seeking Solace said...

In the state I grew up in, the first Monday after Thanksgiving was the first day of the season. So, it was like a state holiday. When I was little, school was always closed because hardly anyone would show up!

The state I live in now, just north of home state, moved the first day to Saturday, for probably the reasons you stated.

Elsewhere said...

That was a very well-written post.

Most of your students are hunters???

I'm hoping to start teaching creative writing to Indigenous students soon, so I'll keep reading your blog for encouraging stories!

Deb said...

I *love* that you did that activity in your comp class!