Thursday, September 24, 2009

Chalking up the school

My first chalk poem at school was also my first published poem: I found the clipping again recently and as I wrote it when I was only 14, it seemed ideal for here. It's about a friendship on the cusp between girlhood and womanhood, with lots of twilight colours, so I chalked in shades of purple.

First poem

Lots of positive feedback emboldened me to try a new, not quite finished, poem out in chalk, safe in the knowlege that spring rains would wash away this early version soon enough. I chalked it on the steps leading past my studio, which has allowed me to see it read in both directions (up and down the stairs) over and over again by groups of students, often reciting it aloud in unison, testing their tongues on the hard words (like self-propulsion and Ediacaran). Although it's not an easy poem the students have said they liked it (in both directions).

Reading my unset jellyfish poem outside the science block

Then one sunny day, instead of holding an Open Studio at lunchtime, I waited for the first half dozen girls to arrive, and led them out with a bucket of chalk and a pile of poetry books to write more poems around the school. Choosing what to write was half the fun as we read aloud to each other from my recently acquired collections of sci fi poetry, and the tatty old Voices books that I've had since I was a girl.

The girl on the right is chalking her own original poem with illustrations

One girl had an original poem she could recite from memory so with the help of a friend put that on one flight of steps. A couple of others found an old teacher-teasing rhyme which they thought was hilarious so wrote and illustrated that alongside a short pathway. Isabel and I searched long and hard for a poem the right length that we liked and thought appropriate for school, finally settling on a Chinese anti-war poem (the Voices books are loaded with war/anti war poetry), and wrote it together, going up the stairs.

Jessica drawing bubblegum

Part of the fun of chalk poetry is the slight frisson of it being almost illicit. Some of the students were nervous that they might get in trouble, and I promised it would be fine, but that I would take any rap if it came. However, the teachers coming through our creative space all expressed their delight, one even gave me a hug and said it was fabulous, which made all the girls relax.

Poetry on the hoof...

For a couple of days, until the big rain started, every time I left the studio I would see girls reading poetry off the pavement as they walked from class to class.


feddabonn said...

i *love chalk poetry, and always get quite excited when i stumble over some. good to know there's another generation being born!

Anonymous said...

You so make a difference!

Carol said...

So good to see that the school approved. I did it once with preschoolers and had parents tell me I was teaching them to be vandals. Your girls are very fortunate to have you there.