Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Poetry and the newspaper

The first American newspaper, the Boston News-Letter, was published by John Campbell, a postmaster, on this day in 1704. It was originally a single sheet of paper printed on both sides and published weekly. One of my favorite poetry-making activities involves using the newspaper as a bank of words, ideas, and print. Kids really enjoy this “building block” approach to poetry and it often provides a bridge to writing for kids who are hesitant or reluctant to try poetry writing. It’s called “found” poetry and is based on taking text from other sources such as newspaper articles, ads, picture books, etc. and converting it into a poem. I enjoy using newspaper articles (or news from the web) since this material is handy and offers current information that is often interesting and relevant to young people. In addition, “mining” poems for words and ideas for a poem helps children process the information and focus on key points for discussion.

This activity can be conducted with the whole group, in small groups, or individually once children are familiar with the process. It begins with choosing a news article (or other text) of interest, then reading it, discussing it, and highlighting and writing the key words and ideas from the piece that seem particularly sharp, interesting, or relevant. From that list of words and ideas, you arrange a poem, eliminating unnecessary words and phrases and inserting a few others, if needed, for sense or meaning. What emerges is often interesting news, plus powerful poetry. Then post the poem along with the news article, and if time allows, a drawing or photograph that the kids choose or create. Here is an example that I created based on this sample news report from the web.

Peace One Day Commitments 2004
As one way of observing the Day, many peace based NGOs and individuals representing a wide variety of religious and spiritual traditions, are observing "International Day of Peace Vigils" with the following objective: "To encourage worldwide, 24-hour spiritual observations for peace and nonviolence on the International Day of Peace, 21 September 2004 in every house of worship and place of spiritual practice, by all religious and spiritually based groups and individuals and by all men, women and children who seek peace in the world." These global 24-hour observations for peace are meant to demonstrate the power of prayer and other spiritual observations in promoting peace and preventing violent conflict. They will also help raise public awareness of the International Day of Peace and can directly support the establishment of a global ceasefire. You can personally support this worldwide initiative by committing to conduct a spiritual observation and promulgating the Vigil idea among religious and peace-based groups in your community.

And here is one possible poem based on the words and ideas of this article that I created as an example. (Obviously, several different poems are possible from one news article, based on the choices each poem “finder” makes.)

Peace One Day

One way
observing the Day
International Day of Peace
peace and nonviolence
21 September
in every house of worship
in every place of spiritual practice
all men, women and children
who seek peace in the world
preventing violent conflict
raising public awareness
support a global ceasefire
this worldwide initiative
in your community.
Peace One Day

Physically cutting and manipulating the words of a newspaper article makes poetry “writing” a bit more concrete for kids who are still learning how to structure phrases, sentences, and poems-- and shows them that poems can come from anywhere—even today’s headlines.

Picture credit: http://www.earlyamerica.com/earlyamerica/firsts/newspaper/

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