WSB Extra: Writers in the Schools report from West Seattle HS

Some of the news we share from local schools is quickly summarizable – a photo, a few words. This report is more verbose – because it’s about words. Just before what became this snow-extended Thanksgiving break (most students have been out since noontime Monday, if not earlier), West Seattle High School language-arts teacher Kira Hopkins shared her news about WSHS and Writers in the Schools, working with her ninth-grade students. Here’s what WITS writer-in-residence Katie Ogle writes about her experiences so far – including a sample of student work:

Writers in the Schools at West Seattle High School

Writers in the Schools, a program of Seattle Arts and Lectures, employs local teaching artists to bring creative writing into King County public schools–and I, Katie Ogle, am delighted to be a 2010 writer-in-residence at West Seattle High School.

I visit Kira Hopkins’ four 9th-grade Language Arts classes each Friday. The early morning classes are usually still waking up and the afternoon classes are sprinting toward the imminent weekend, and yet they still are able to give me astute observations about published work I bring in to examine and push themselves to create stunning responses to my challenging writing prompts.

So far we are learning about the autonomy the writer has over language, the efficacy of literary devices, and how to develop honest, interesting poetry and writing. In keeping with Mrs. Hopkins’ course-theme, Identity, we have written self-portrait poems, odes to cherished objects, and poetic memoirs. I am so pleased to share one of many sharp and well-crafted poems that has come out of our short time together:

Click ahead to read that “well-crafted poem,” and a bit more from Katie Ogle:

Ode to my Pencil
(By) Student, period 5

Big sister and Dear Mama
Bought me a pencil for
my birthday.
Within a bag of penguins who spit
and backgrounds that
My needed pencils arrived.
Red version
blue version
both clear and tough,
with a bumpy grip
a sharp clip
and a wondrous tip-top,
it’s easy to push around.

They are like a pair
of hands
that would create
the world’s wares.

Like a wild animal
making nervous the human
who uses it.
With a taste of burnt paper
and having the sweet smell
of sweat.
It’s like a falling leaf.

to make one proud with the
smell of creativity
It is dirt. It is a story.

It is the gold mine of hard work…
The rocket of many engineers,
the cover of a book.

An art museum
waiting to pour out
its heart.

My pencil is like a loyal dog.
It is always there,
it will always be mine,
my pencil is the partner
that will always be
honest with me.

This student’s poem takes after Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to my Socks” in its wild and various metaphors and its audacity to go on and on in order to demonstrate the poet’s true appreciation of the object. In “Ode to my Pencil,” the student takes Neruda’s concept a step further in her intelligent meta-poetic engagement with her cherished object. She chooses to write about her pencil and after she describes it specifically and aesthetically, she goes on to truly honor it as a tool of imaginative liberation — something frightening and powerful, “a wild animal,” and simultaneously her honest “partner.”

This poem is just one of many that are beginning to bloom in the mind of these freshman students at West Seattle High School. Their willingness to apprehend complex, literary concepts and apply them sincerely to their own creative minds is a thrilling experience to participate in.

Budget-pending, we will collect all of the best work from my residency into a short anthology for the students to share with their parents and peers. This book will undoubtedly “make one proud with the / smell of creativity,” as this poet puts it. I look forward to working toward our goal with this group of bright, smelly teenagers who bravely give me their thoughtful attention and honest writing each week.

You can find out more about Writers in the Schools – including the full list of writers working at local schools right now – by going here.

3 Replies to "WSB Extra: Writers in the Schools report from West Seattle HS"

  • RG November 29, 2010 (10:18 am)

    This is cool, but please be careful and gentle with young writers. Especially when you “collect all the best work” to compile the book. Everyone is an author!!!

    • WSB November 29, 2010 (10:21 am)

      Having had a ninth-grader (who attends a different school) spend eight hours yesterday battling his way through an assignment to write a poem … I’d second that :)
      Anyway, we are very pleased to have schools share news of programs like this! – TR

  • RG November 29, 2010 (10:21 am)

    Oops, on my iPod touch. Plz delete =)

Sorry, comment time is over.