Stanley was born in the Dominican Republic and came to live in New York City about three years ago. He likes pretty much everything about New York, he says, except for the cold. Stanley is a fifth-grader in a public school in the Bronx, where he is an enthusiastic participant in T&W teaching artist Ibi Zoboi’s creative writing class. He was interviewed by Susan Karwoska at the school in January 2016.
Teachers & Writers: Do you like to write?
Stanley: I like to write poetry, but I don’t like other kinds of writing so much because I get bored. Like, I was just taking a test where we had to read and write and I was bored, but when I’m writing poetry, I get excited! When Miss Ibi is talking about what we are going to do, I get so excited I jump out of my seat!
T&W: What makes writing poetry different from other kinds of writing to you?
Stanley: Other kinds of writing sometimes feel like they don’t have anything to do with you, but poetry has to do with what you think, what you feel, and everything that you love.
T&W: Do you think you could mix some of those qualities into your other writing?
Stanley: You mean, have a little bit of fun, and a little bit of learning? Yeah, I like that! We do that in math class—my teacher makes it fun so we can learn better.
T&W: What do you write about in your poetry?
Stanley: I write about how I think life is, and how I feel. Some of my friends don’t like to think about these things, but I do. I guess I think in a different way. I wrote a poem in class about how I am like an apple on a tree, waiting for the sun and the rain to come along.
T&W: I’d love to read that poem! What do you want to be when you grow up?
Stanley: I want to be a lot of things: a policeman, a poetry writer, and an artist. And then I’ll still use my imagination. Imagination is important for everything. What I’m trying to say is that imagination helps us laugh and have fun, but also it helps us figure things out.
fences and playgrounds
people on the streets
buildings and trees
black and green and red
cars and friends
talking and joking
light in the windows at sundown
makes my ear drums ring
By Ibi Zoboi
Stanley’s poem was inspired by Eloise Greenfield’s poem, “Riding on the Train.” This poem was the starting point for a lesson I taught on using imagery and sensory details to create what I called a “moving poem.” After we read the poem together, I asked the students to choose one of four starting points for their moving poem: walking home from school or riding in a car, train, or bus. We then closed our eyes and imagined ourselves in one of these settings. I asked the students to pay attention to everything they saw, heard, smelled, felt, and tasted. I told them to be as specific as possible in describing these things.
At the very end of Greenfield’s “Riding on the Train” is the word “sleepy” written in a downward slant. We discussed why the poet chose to write the word this way. We all agreed that the word sleepy was also getting sleepy. I asked the students to do the same. But in order to do that, we would have to fill up our moving poems with so much sensory detail that both the poet and the reader would certainly feel sleepy after writing or reading the poem.
Stanley is one of the most enthusiastic participants in Mr. Henriquez’s fifth-grade class. His love of words and language is quite evident when he shares his interpretations of certain metaphors and poetic ideas. Stanly is in a bilingual Spanish classroom, and at times, he struggled to express his ideas clearly in English. I wonder how much more vivid Stanley’s descriptions would have been had he written this in Spanish. However, a passion for poetry does not always begin with the words written on the page. I believe that the best poems begin with the ability to see metaphor in everything. This is what Stanley was able to bring to the lessons and the overall residency.