Using all their senses, students write for poetry contest
As David Morris introduced a poetry contest to students at Craig Middle School, he asked them to think about writing in a way that might be different from the way they consider other assignments.
“This is real-life writing,” he told them.
Morris, who’s published three books of poetry, taught at Craig Middle School for 23 years before retiring a few years ago. He now teaches writing at Colorado Northwestern Community College.
The students will be writing short poems in their English classes and submitting to Morris by Feb. 17. Morris and a group of other poets will pick first, second and third-place winners, as well as honorable mentions. The students who place in those categories will receive cash prizes.
Morris said Carol Jacobson played a key role in starting the annual contest. Jacobson, a poet and the co-owner of Downtown Bookstore in Craig, died tragically in 2009.
Morris, described Jacobson as a deeply powerful presence in the community who cultivated an appreciation of arts and touched wide swath of people.
“She pushed the arts so much in this town,” Morris said.
“You can’t tell me in a poem that the lake was really nice,” he said. “That means nothing. I want to know what color the water is. I want to know how cold the water is. I want to know what I hear when I’m sitting by that lake … That’s what a poem does.”
Morris also had the students do some writing in the auditorium, jotting down what they’d recently perceived with all five of their senses.
A number of students asked questions and engaged with Morris, particularly during the last part of the presentation. One of those students was Shaun Colley, 13, who talked after the presentation about what most drew him to poetry — and to writing in general.
“It lets you express your feelings,” he said. “And you can help other people out by writing. You give advice.”
This year, two new language arts teachers are working with eighth-graders at the middle school. One, Diedre Watson, has noted how the act of writing can engage students more than simply talking about it.
“They’re a little bit negative toward (writing) at first, but some of them, once they start writing, actually see that it’s enjoyable,” she said. “They have fun with it, and some of them go above and beyond.”
Forrest Watson, Diedre’s husband, is also teaching eighth-grade language arts. Writing poetry, he said, has helped students to experiment beyond the more commonly taught sorts of school-based writing.
“It’s a different style of writing,” he said. “They’re not writing an essay; they’re not writing a book report. It’s more of an art.”
And poetry, Forrest Watson continued, has sparked vigorous participation among students — participation that’s especially noticeable among the ones who hadn’t been engaging in the lessons before.
“We’ve seen some surprising work from students who usually don’t turn in anything at all,” he said.
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