Peter’s Prompts – aTi 2014

One activity that I can definitely bring into the classroom was the last prompt that Peter gave to us. He said we were going on a field trip and he brought us into an adjacent classroom, where we found hundreds of postcards scattered across a table. He instructed us to select three postcards that we were attracted to and one other that repulsed us. I selected a panoramic photo of a sequoia, a black and white photo of Aretha Franklin, a Humpback whale jumping out of the ocean, and a very strange sculpture of a female. Our prompt asked us to compose an elegy for one of the notable deaths of 2014 according to The New York Times. I have participated in this activity once before and it did not go well so my standards were not set high. What surprised me most was that the group responded positively to my draft and someone said it was their favorite out of the work I had shared over the week.

I think I felt right away that writing about one of these “notable” people would disconnect me from the writing and I would have difficulty “getting in.” Ultimately, I picked Harold Ramis, because Ghostbusters is just classic. Almost just as immediately I shed him and focused on the relationship between the speaker and the person they were grieving. That is not to say that bits of Harold Ramis lore did not enter the universe of my writing. My opening line was at a first tongue-in-cheek Easter egg for Ghostbuster fans, but when the tone of poem revealed itself the line became more sincere. Also, Ramis was a Chicago Cubs fan and that snuck its way into my writing.

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Where previously I had struggled composing from this structure, this time the postcards seemed to work for me. I think this would be great for students who many times are struggling to find strong images or an entry point to their writing. The writing becomes more play – here are pieces, how can you connect them? It might also create some excitement for students, in the sense that it offers the teacher a gimmick. We can’t take our students on endless fieldtrips, but that doesn’t mean we can’t create circumstances that allow them to “travel.”

I am always surprised by what develops from Peter’s prompts and how everyone’s poems are so different. Sometimes I stick strictly to all of the challenges in the prompts and other times I tend to ignore some and focus on others. I think they are an essential aspect of my writing and I would love to offer some to my students, but I don’t know how good I would be at creating them.

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