Poetic License

Today in Sandi Crozier’s language arts class, 5th grader, Tai R., offers me this poetic riddle:

I’m with you 24/7 and 365

I can see you but you can’t see me

I rely on you and you rely on me

But you’re always hurting me

What am I?

Tai R. shows off his riddle poem

I scratch my head, trying to come up with the answer, but I’m equally curious about the checkerboard-patterned paper on which Tai’s displayed his poem. It turns out that it’s actually two pieces of paper, precisely cut and woven together in a way so that only when Tai pulls the edges apart, he reveals the answer to the riddle. Sorry… you’ll have to wait.

Today is construction day— a “poetry factory”— in Sandi’s class, an essential part of the 5th grade Poetry Museum project, a rite of passage for Wildwood elementary students.  Sandi explains the project to me. “For our poetry unit, the students learn about 18 different styles and give each one a try. They select their favorite 5 pieces and transfer them to a choice of paper templates; some are 3-D, others are folded paper creations like Tai’s.”

Associate teacher Linda Gordon explains to me how the poetry factory works. “The students fill out an actual work order, describing the kind of template they’d like, along with the colors they’d like it in,” she says. “I take the orders from the students and go to the faculty work room where I use a paper die-cutting machine to make the templates to the specifications. Then Sandi and I help the kids assemble their templates.”

Brennon B. readies one of his poem templates

Touring the classroom, I see students working with beautiful paper boxes, geometric shapes, and even paper roller coasters. Students are also experimenting with free verse, odes, and two voice poems. Tai’s classmate, Brennon B., shows me the template on which he’ll record his art/architecture poem about the Staples Center. He also shows me the “squash” template on which he’ll record another poem, a very cool paper creation that opens up accordion-style.

When I ask where the inspiration for the various templates comes from, associate teacher Linda Gordon motions toward Sandi and says, jokingly, “You know Sandi. She never sleeps!” Sandi laughs and tells me that she has collected and created the various 3-D templates over the years. “Some of them I’ve been making since I was a child,” she says, “and others, like the ‘squash,’ I found online, and couldn’t pass up.”

Brennon B. shows off the “squash” template

Fifth grader, Maxwell H. invites me over to his table to show off the template he’s working on— a city skyline. “I wrote one of my poems about New York City,” he says, “and this one was just perfect.”

To round out their Poetry Museum projects, students like Maxwell write an “About the Poet” biography and are encouraged to create one extra credit piece of their own design.  “We’ve had students’ poems on ice skates, suspended in water, and written on eggshells,” Sandi says.

Fifth graders (left to right) Harry Z., Ella K., and Maxwell H. work on their poems

Come see what this year’s 5th grade poets have created at the Wildwood Poetry Museum, Thursday, May 31, from 8:30-9:30 am.  As for Tai’s riddle poem, you won’t have to wait until May 31. He shows me how to open up his woven template to reveal the answer: Air!

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