Loosening up their imaginations, children take happily to writing poetry

February 06, 1994|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,Contributing Writer

The students in Janet King's third-grade class at Norrisville Elementary School painted vivid images with words written on notebook paper in response to questions posed by visiting Baltimore poet Niki Leopold.

Mrs. Leopold, who writes and illustrates children's books, went to this northern Harford County school throughout January to teach students about writing poetry. Recently, she met with the third-grade students.

"One of the most important things about poetry is your imagination," Mrs. Leopold told the children. "I want you to loosen yours up and let yourself go. I really hope that you're going to enjoy writing poetry."

Soft-spoken and enthusiastic in her teaching style, Mrs. Leopold encouraged the students to use comparisons and to "talk about feelings in an imaginative way" to create poems.

As a group, they wrote a poem about anger: its color, what kind of animal it might be, what kind of sound it would make and where it lives.

Anger is neon red . . .

Anger is red as blood

and a hot poker . . .

It's a hissing snake

And the Grim Reaper . . .

It's a tornado and twister . . .

And it lives in the night.

Mrs. Leopold has already conducted a series of workshops at the school with the fourth- and fifth-grade classes who wrote self-portraits and family comparisons.

Amanda Hale wrote:

I am a bird at flight

soaring over the treetops.

I am a young sapling

willing to learn

and work hard.

Shannon Salamon wrote:

My mother is like

a moon moth when it flies

because she is soft and gentle.

"We want to spark their interest in poetry," said Richard Russell, principal of Norrisville Elementary School. "That's the purpose of this kind of program."

Mrs. King, the third-grade teacher, said, "I think she's going to open up a real avenue of creativity for the children. Anything is acceptable. They can't be wrong. And I think that is so neat for them."

Mrs. Leopold told Mrs. King's students, "There are no grades in ** this.

"It would be very hard to grade a poem. I do have one rule, though. Please don't rhyme. When you're starting out with poetry, there's a tendency to get so intent on finding the next rhyming word that it becomes a rhyming game."

Instead, she asked the students to try repetition instead of rhyming, re

peating words and sounds to make their verse "mellifluous like honey that flows."

The sun tastes like sour lemons

groaning from a tree . . .

-- Paige Roberts

Night feels like

a chocolate candy bar

melting in the sun . . .

-- Brandy Prosser

The rain smells like wet socks

over the fireplace . . .

-- Anton Anglisano

The sun sounds like

a cat screeching . . .

-- Collin Minniss

"It was fun," 8-year-old Collin said. "Poetry is using your imagination to write things."

"I like writing poems," said Michael Zeller, 8. "I thought poetry would be hard like math. But if you get a lot of skill you could probably be a famous poetry writer. I was thinking of being a builder but . . . I might think about being a poetry writer."

The poetry workshops are offered through the Artists in Education program sponsored by the Maryland State Arts Council. The council hires poets such as Mrs. Leopold to teach workshops all over the state.

The cost for a nine-day poetry residency is about $1,350.

Typically, a PTA will pay about one-third, with the rest of the money provided by the county and state. Programs in visual and performing arts are also available.

"We want to cultivate interest and provide the opportunity for students to explore poetry as an art form, as a form of expression and as a form of communication," said Linda Vlasak, who directs the program for the state.

Lillian Sonberg, a member of the Harford County Cultural Advisory Board who is administering about $4,000 in funding for the program in the county this year, said, "The poet's goal is to show the children how to use language in expressing their feelings and thoughts."

Mrs. Leopold, who is 48 and lives in Ruxton, is a graduate of the Writing Seminars at the Johns Hopkins University and has a doctorate in art history.

She teaches noncredit courses in poetry and writing for children's picture books for the Johns Hopkins University School of Continuing Studies.

Her work has been published in several magazines. She has also published a children's storybook titled "Sandcastle Seahorses." Two other books are expected to be released as videocassettes.

"I've loved working in this program," said Mrs. Leopold, who has been an Artists in Education teacher for the past five years. "I like encouraging the children's imaginations."

Because of disruptions to the schedule caused by weather-related school closings over the past few weeks, she will return to Norrisville in the spring to complete several workshops and hold poetry readings with the kindergarten, first- and second-grade children.

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