I was teaching a sixth-grade class in Nyack, New York. It was a gorgeous fall day and I could sense a restless energy emanating from just about every one of the 27 kids in the class. They were looking longingly out the window, as was I, and thinking about being “free.”
After about my fifth attempt to get their attention, their full attention, I decided to try another tack. I checked with their teacher for permission (I was a visiting “Poet in the Schools” guest) and she was all for my idea. I told the kids to bring a pad of paper and a pencil and follow me. We headed out the door and onto the lawn behind the school building. I instructed everyone to stretch out on the grass and look up at the sky and do some “Cloud Dreaming.”
I could sense a combination of joy and confusion. What exactly was cloud dreaming? I stretched out with them and began to call out things I saw in the clouds. “I see a dog chasing a rabbit. I see a feather floating in space. I see…” Suddenly one of the kids called out what he saw and then another and then – the class was hooked. We were seriously in to cloud dreaming.
I told them to start writing down what they saw. We spent most of the hour, out there, on that glorious day, watching clouds rearrange themselves, telling us stories, making us dream, giving us the inspiration for poetry.
The next day, when I returned to the classroom, I had a group of kids who were on the edges of their seats, waiting to share what they had written overnight. Mostly, that first day, there were just a series of impressions, of the visual – now, we had to turn those images, those visions into poems.
I suggested they pick a single image, one that they felt was the most powerful. I told them to take that image and work to share it so that it would come alive for those of us who had not seen it; by using poetic techniques such as metaphor, simile, line break, alliteration, onomatopoeia, and hyperbole. Or any combination of those poetic techniques (which we will be exploring together over the next few weeks.)
During the course of that workshop with those amazing students, we produced poems that were filled with passion, emotion, honesty, and inspiration. There were lines like, “The leaves brushed against the fairy’s cheek as she hid in the shadows.” “Horses, dozens of them, raced across a jagged ravine, dust flying from their heels, leaving the world in darkness, behind them.” “The bird nested safely in the branches of a small bush while the wind blew, like a trumpet, all around.”
Looking for inspiration, for that push to write a poem? Head out on a day when the sky is hosting clouds, look up, and dream…