Writing Mini-Lessons: Where Poetry Hides


“Say it, no ideas but in things.”
~ William Carlos Williams

“Discovering where poems come from is an essential part of the poet’s process,” Poet Georgia Heard states, adding that she has “never heard a poet describe the origin of a poem by saying it came from an assignment about pretending to be a grass blade blowing in the wind or from a poetry contest about health safety.” She knows the truth about being inspired to poetry: “finding where poems hide from us is part of the process of being a poet and of living our lives as poets” (Awakening the Heart: Teaching Poetry in Elementary and Middle School, 1998, p.47).

This mini-lesson is designed to help you go deeper as writers by rooting your work in concrete objects, whereby ideas and feelings are expressed in connection to experience. Often students hold the mistaken belief that written pieces or poetry must define some enormous idea or emotion, such as the nature of love or humanity. Most often attempts to describe such overarching topics fall far short of the mark, deteriorating into pat clichĂ©s of little depth. Rooting large emotions and ideas in small moments from your own personal experiences will always result in richer, more powerful written pieces. So search the classroom and your home, family, and life for the places poetry hides. Record as many specific things, places, occasions, and people as you observe or can recall that might hold the seeds of the poems of your life. It may help you to see another student’s list of where she found poems hiding. Her list is below, and it is followed by another student’s free verse poem about where he found poetry hiding.

One student’s list of where poetry hides:

in pages of unused journals, too pretty to write in in the trinket box of treasures
in the collage of photographs on the refrigerator door in our family conversations
tucked in dust jackets of old picture books in my ring collection
in the one-on-one basketball played with my dad in that first dive into a swimming pool
in the tangle of shoes under my desk in the old collar of my dog who died
in the moments of comfortable silence when people read in the morning silence when I first wake
squeezed between the books lining my overfull bookshelves in popping popcorn
in the vase of flowers on the kitchen table in the dusty feather boa that frames my mirror
under the lid of the wicker laundry basket, always askew in my collection of boxes, each housing a story
in the way my mom cooks dinner in my old running shoes
in the post-Halloween candy wrappers strewn across the floor in my blankie, which I once took everywhere
in the pink lamp that sends rose-colored light into the hallway in the loving, playful eyes of my Golden Retriever

Where Poetry Hides
Where poetry hides…
Crumpled, old, wasted paper pushed together
So tightly, a permanent form
Ancient candy wrappers, chocolate, SweeTarts, mints
Old, finished homework,
Filled with words that soon become a poem
Cracked CDs
Some old socks and CapriSun juice boxes
A few colored pencils, too short to use
Sharp, rusty insides of pencil sharpeners
Dried out, dead red and orange, blue markers
All burst out of my garbage and form like a puzzle
A poem is born!