Developing a Noticing Habit

As I look forward to the upcoming school year, I’m thinking about the Noticing Poetry unit that our tenth grade teaching team adopted two years ago and the research that validates its use in helping students become more competent and confident readers of poetry. However, I’m also thinking that the unit doesn’t go far enough. The “I Notice” methodology should be integrated into ongoing practice throughout the year.

This is because the Noticing Poetry unit is a standalone, but it is not incorporated into the daily, weekly reading habits of students and teachers. It certainly can and should be. What I’ve been thinking about for some time is pulling out the levels/cards and using them consistently, and focusing in on the Ideational Level more fully throughout the process, since it’s what most students have the hardest time with. Several years ago, I had deliberately transformed the “I Notice” method into a unit since that is the way most teachers prefer their units of instruction unfold, but I’m thinking now that what is needed is an additional approach in order for “I Notice” to be useful to anyone, not just students. I’m tinkering with the method and the unit, adapting it to be a tool for ALL readers, not just students, allowing more and more people to engage with “the art of the language itself” a.k.a. poetry, even if they have some trepidation or anxiety about doing so.

So stay tuned! An even more useful tool is on the way that can help all readers!

Best,

Scot

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Poetry and Science!

I woke up this morning to a wonderful article in Scientific American entitled, “How Poetry Can Help Communicate Science,” written by Sam Illingworth. According to his bio, “Sam Illingworth, PhD, is a senior lecturer in science communication at Manchester Metropolitan University, in the U.K., where his research involves using poetry to enhance dialogue between scientists and nonscientists.”

It’s a wonderful article, and it reminds me that infusing poetry across disciplines is natural. Language art is limitless in its capacity to communicate!

As a U.S. poet living overseas in China and teaching at a private international school, I’m always on the lookout for ways to integrate multiple disciplines with poems or vice versa, which is why Illingworth’s post reminded me of this sonnet I wrote a while ago:

Entropy

The overall struggle for existence of living beings is […] a struggle
for entropy [more accurately: negative entropy]…
—Ludwig Boltzmann

The mounds of dirty clothes wait on the floor;
the piled-up Matchbox cars, a lonely doll
and Weeble Wobbles loiter near the drawer
where they belong. A “Gibbs” pre-printed football
rests on the kitchen floor. The plate-filled sink—
drowned sippy cups turned upside down, some forks
and spoons akimbo, Oh! The garbage stinks
like Brussels sprouts. This wont of ours won’t work.
It matters that disorder’s all around:
my dappled tie, the flowered skirt you bought,
the scattered bills, the diapers on the couch,
the puzzle piece of Noah’s ark—my God!
We kneel. We pray: redeem us, send a maid.
We’ll need one since we’ll procreate again.

I recently revised the last line (above) from the version of the sonnet which originally appeared in the now defunct literary magazine, Verse Wisconsin. You can still read that version here.

Nye is Right On!

Photo of Naomi Shihab Nye from the article.

“Every day is filled with poems, it’s just whether you want to turn your head and look at them, or give them a little time on the page or in your mind,” she says in an interview. “I think it helps us to know that.” —  Naomi Shiahb Nye qtd. by Henry Gass in his article “This writer’s job: Get young people to see poetry everywhere” published yesterday in The Christian Science Monitor.

As a writer who teaches, all I have to say is, “Yes yes yes!” There is so much that is wonderful about this article in the Christian Science Monitor about U.S. Young People’s Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye and her work. It reinforces what I’ve said before not only here in my post that “Reading Poems = The Mindful Noticing of Language”, but elsewhere as well! Check out the article!

Day 1: Being Present with a Poem

This is one of my favorite months of the year, the month when my three other colleagues and I introduce a modified version of the Academy of American Poets unit plan, “Noticing Poetry” with all 108 of our students, the month when students begin to understand what it means to notice poems for what they are — the art of language itself.

This post was written about Day 1, January 10, 2019, the first day of the Noticing Poetry unit, during which students explored Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro”:

I start off class asking students to read the first slide of the PowerPoint in their cheesiest infomercial voice imaginable. One student, two students, three students, each take turns at one sentence after another. “I really need to make this into a real infomercial video,” I say. A number of students love this idea — a cheesy infomercial for a method to read poetry. They know me, and it very well may happen before the academic year is over, with their help, of course. So stay tuned! 🙂

After this levity and one particularly talented student reading, I explain the concept of looking at levels, only four things in any poem they come across: ideas, images, sounds, visuals (typography).

I pass out the iNotice cards, and ask them play “nose goes” to determine who the speaker for their level groups will be — one group, the Ideational one, is down to two boys who don’t quite understand the game.

“Okay, hands on the table, you two,” I say. “Ready? Don’t injure yourself… first one to touch their nose is exempt. Get set…. go!”

It’s clear who the loser is, the boy who was the most prepared, the one who thought he had his pal beat. After a good laugh and some redirection, I raise my hand for their attention.

“Look for as many instances of these things as you can,” I say. “It’s about volume. Quantity right now over quality. How much do you notice?” Then they go off into their group work.

Ideational Level Card


I walk over to the Ideational group. “Remember, start with the title; what is it that you know?” I ask. “Write this down next to the title. Then go through each phrase or clause, asking, ‘What do I know now?’ Your job is only to look at what is there, to notice what it literally states.”

I leave them, checking in on each of the other groups.

Visual/Typographical Level Card

The Visual/Typography group has two students in it. “You’re small, but mighty,” I say. “How does the poem look on the page? Leave no visual aspect unturned! Everything on the card and that you notice in the poem counts! It’s about the amount you notice!” The poem is a small one, and as two quieter students, they are quite happy to work diligently together.

Sonic Level Card

Noticing some silence from a usually spirited trio of boys, I head to the back of the room. Making a techno-club sound in the back of my throat to get their attention, I shift over to where the three boys slouch in their chairs staring ahead at the words in front of them. “You’re the Sonic level; remember your job is to find as many sounds as you can! How many so far?”

“Two,” says one boy.

“Two?” I ask.

“Uh-huh.”

“Hmm. Look again, please. Read it out loud. Go ahead. Any repetition of sound.” He begins reading aloud. Another boy from his group mouths “black bough. Alliteration.”

Score! I think.

“Keep going! Notice more!” I say.

As I walk away, the third boy adds, “What about wet and petals?”

I smile.

Sensory Level Card

Lastly, I go to my Sensory level group, the images/”word pictures” group. I’m expecting them to have many, many images. They’re doing well, noticing at least five images. Still, some of the images are lumped together.

“Remember, each picture counts,” I say. “Each and every image, even if it conveys a slightly different sense should be counted separately.”

I give them all a few more minutes, and it becomes clear from the chattering about events unrelated to the poem that they’re winding down. I pass out the “iNotice Poem Level Meters.”

“Okay, now we’re going to see just how much have you noticed,” I say. “Let’s start with the Ideational Level. What did you find?” Each speaker (a.k.a. loser of the “nose goes” game) tells me, and I write their responses on the board, on an “iNotice Poem Level Meter” I’ve projected. Other groups can add or question as we go, and we collaboratively fill in one master chart from the bottom up with their “noticings”:

What results is a kind of boombox spectrum analyzer of the poem’s levels of language (see below). They then accurately identify that the Sensory level, images dominate this little poem by Ezra Pound.

“Now, what connections do you see across levels?” I ask them. “Describe what’s connected and how different details connect to the ideas.”

I draw the connections they describe, and as they start talking about what they notice, I listen. Anytime someone says, “It could be,” or “maybe”, or “perhaps”, or approaches “being deep,” I redirect.

“Remember, just focus on what’s there. What relates to one another?” After making several connections, then it’s time to ask a new kind of question.

I ask, “Well, who cares about what’s there? What do you have to say about what we just did?”

Whatever meaning-making occurs from here on out, occurs organically and is rooted in the language of the page. One student says that the colon acts a as connecting device between the two ideas present in the poem. Another student comments on how the poem is not just pretty but a little sad in places, moving from an image that isn’t very pleasing to one that is more so.

While I want to do more with this poem, to lead them through it, I know that if I do, I’ll kill whatever has occurred organically. Some students will feel less competent if we reduce this experience to “look to the teacher.” I want them to feel competent in their abilities, that they (or anyone) can notice what is present in poems. To know what’s present in poems, one must be present with the language of poems. This is what they’re learning how to do.

They are beginning their journey as readers of poetry; they are noticing language and are beginning to make connections that are interesting and surprising. And they are all rooted in the language itself to do so.

The majority leave happy. I leave happy. A successful day one.

I walk out of my room into the hallway, energized by the learning that’s taken place, by their recent immersion in a small, beautiful poem on their own terms. I know this is setting them up for more of this good stuff of poetry that is to come. I know they’ll advance to larger and more complex poems. I know that we’ll have to get to analysis and all the ways one must learn to write about literature. However, today they slowed down and noticed what was there. Today they felt what it was like to really be present with poetry.

Poetry Blogging

Reflecting back on 2018, I can’t help but also reflect on my writing, its highs and lows, and its associated writerly events/activities. I was fortunate to participate in the Beijing Bookworm International Literary Festival for the second time in the past three years, but as far as other events/ activities, my teaching life has kept my writing life at bay. However, no longer! I remain optimistic and committed to a more productive writing life in 2019!

To that end, I’ll be blogging twice a month here as part of the Poetry Blogging Network, set up by Kelli Russell Agodon over at https://ofkells.blogspot.com/. You should check out the list of Poetry Bloggers she already has lined up — a truly amazing list of talented writers!

Onward into 2019, and if you’re already there, I’ll be there soon!

Don’t have “time to write?” Check this out!

Spend a few minutes listening to this podcast about CAConrad’s self-created rituals. While some are bizarre, I completely agree that just “getting up early” will not help you commit to writing. You need to integrate it into your life, and what better way than to “ritualize” the act?

While it’s on my Twitter feed at right, you can also check it out here:

You can check out Arcana: The Tarot Poetry Anthology where both CA and I appear here:

http://www.minorarcanapress.com/catalog/arcana-the-tarot-poetry-anthology

U.S. Poet Laureate & Noticing Poetry

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How happy I was to recently come across The Library of Congress Magazine‘s back to school issue and U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith’s piece “How Do I Read a Poem?” What struck me was her admission that “Along the way, I take stock of what I notice.”

Smith details many of the same levels as those found in the “I Notice” method and the “Noticing Poetry” unit plan published on The Academy of American Poets website. She wrote that she tries to “listen to the music,” “look at the images,” look to where the “turn” (of ideas) takes place, and wonder at the “visual shape” of the poem. These align with the four levels of language used by the “I Notice” method and “Noticing Poetry” unit plan — sounds (sonic), images (sensory), ideas (ideational), and visual and shape (typographical).

I encourage you to read her post and compare the concepts for yourself. You can check out the full issue of magazine here.