Poetry as Community: The Power of Asking

“Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference.” —David Oxberg

Pablo Neruda in his charming The Book of Questions asks:

What color is the scent of the blue weeping of violets?

Why doesn’t Thursday talk itself into coming after Friday?

Why do trees conceal the splendor of their roots?

Harold Chapman – Question Mark, London, UK, ca. 1960’s. Photo Credit: independent-collectors.com

Reading over Neruda’s questions, they feel very much much like tiny love poems–generous, thoughtful, considered. After all, questions are an invitation to move closer. They are, perhaps, the first syllable in the language of love.

This week, I have had the pleasure of working with PAGES students on collaborative poetry. Students view a similar object and then together build a poem, line by line. The first thing I often asked students to do in this process is to generate questions. Then, I asked them to listen the conversation that is being built as we circle the room and they offer their response. I have loved watching the sense of ownership and authorship bloom as students take time to ask, listen, answer, and then ask better. The investment students feel in this communal experience becomes palpable. Below is a sample of the process from Mr. Hering’s sophomore classroom at Hayes High School this week:

To be enclosed means you have to get creative

Why?

My creativity can set me free

Where will I go?

Escape the bars that contain you

Wings can help you fly away to something new

Why aren’t you flying?

Through these activities, I’ve witnessed a change come over each classroom’s attitude towards the experience of poetry. It becomes meaningful, exciting, relevant to their shared experience. Asia, a student from Westerville North said, “This feels just like an awesome mash-up between Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj. We’re good at this.”

Often, without developing questions, we do not know which nuance or complexity we most wish to investigate. Simultaneously, a good question is a gift. It says to the other person: I want to know this about you. I want to know who you are deeply. For you, I am willing to be silent. 

–Joy Sullivan

One Comment

  • Brandi Lust commented on October 20, 2015 Reply

    Joy, this is just beautifully written. I really enjoyed reading it. In addition, I was just talking to a friend about Pablo Neruda and his beautiful imagery. Thank you for sharing your words.

    Brandi

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