Today’s guest is Adele Steiner. The photos you see below are from her Look Ma, “Hands” on Poetry reading, which took place at the Center earlier this fall. Adele Steiner holds a B.A. & M.F.A. in English Literature and Creative Writing (Poetry) (University of Maryland). She’s also been a Poet-in-the-Schools for the Maryland State Arts Council; a Veteran Artist in Residence, Georgetown University Hospital; and she is the author of Refracted Love , Freshwater Pearls, and most recently The Moon Lighting. Her work has appeared in Wordwrights, Maryland Poetry Review, Gargoyle, Smartish Pace, Promise, and So To Speak, among others. Here she is.
In my new book, Look Ma, “Hands” on Poetry, I deliberately created writing workshops in which students would be asked to use their five senses to help them learn how to read, understand, and write poetry. In other words, I wanted to get them physically involved in activities and artistic endeavors so that they would have a first-hand experience to write about. You often hear well-known authors advise aspiring writers to “write about what they know” because it is the “up close and personal” experience that provides writers with the kind of raw material that is crucial for crafting the authentic and honest writing that readers crave.
In one of the workshops in Look Ma, for example, I asked some younger students to spend 5-10 minutes enjoying a Tootsie Pop. I then requested that they engage their five senses and relate that experience in a poem. I enjoyed reading about “…crunchy crispy thunder,” a “honey bun” that was “blue, “ and “…looked like a shoe…falling into a mouth.” There were also tales of the moon “…made of popsicles and cherry ice cream,” and readers were advised to “Eat the moon with a spoon.” Another student said that she preferred the candy lollipops with bubble gum (not Tootsie Roll) inside because she could blow bubbles after the candy was gone and, perhaps, blow one “…that’s big enough to take to the purple sky until it pops,” and she falls down into a “purple pool” that she can swim in. As a result, my students didn’t just describe how they ate a Tootsie Pop—They had an experience with the candy that they wove into some magical poems.
Older students really enjoy an experience-oriented workshop as well. Both middle school and high school students jump at an opportunity to participate in my Cloud Poem Workshop. If you don’t believe me, I challenge you to find a student from this age group who wouldn’t like to spend an English period outside on a beautiful day, lying in the grass, and watching clouds go by so that they can use their musings as the inspiration for a poem. In this workshop, I’ve learned that clouds are “shadowy figures…sky crawlers…and climbers.” They are hats “because they cover the sun,” and they are “diamonds shining…, smoke rising…,” and “…pillows sleeping…” because “Clouds show your dreams!”
My new Fusion Art and Creative Writing Workshop for 8-11 Year Olds is a workshop that I’ve been wanting to offer for a while because the entire series of workshops relies on art and art related activities to provide the experiences that students will write about. As an artist in education with the Maryland State Arts Council, I have generally only been able to incorporate one of the workshops listed in this class description into a poetry residency. Time constraints as well as the logistical demands involved in setting these workshops up make it difficult to do much more than that. Students, however, love them.
One student told me that he didn’t want to stop painting with water (in Buddha Board fashion) because he said that all of the different things he was seeing in his brush strokes were giving him so many ideas to write about. “ Black clouds, water turning black and fading” while “rain comes down…” and “swords swish” are just a few of the images from his poem. Another student wanted to create not just one Mandela, but two, because she enjoyed being hypnotized by the art form, especially when she spun it around on her pencil point. Her poem revealed “people sleeping in a circle, standing on each other’s shoulders” and “…singing like a heart.” These students and others responded to these two workshops with some wonderfully creative writing.
Their stories and poems were so good, as a matter of fact, I couldn’t help but think that an opportunity for students to engage in these activities, as well as others like them, in a series of workshops would result in “pure gravy.” Specifically, the Fusion Art and Creative Writing Workshop would “jump start” young writers’ imaginations and provide them with a variety of techniques and tools to help them learn how to invoke as well as sustain the creative process in order to write original and exciting new stories and poems.