Ahrar is a student in a New York City public school and was in a second-grade class taught by poet and T&W teaching artist Matthew Burgess in the spring of 2015. In this interview with editor Susan Karwoska, he holds forth on poetry and his plans for the future.
Teachers & Writers: Do you like to write?
Ahrar: No, not that much. Writing makes my hand get tired a lot, so my hand is always telling my brain to not write that much.
T&W: What about poetry? Do you like that?
Ahrar: Oh, poetry is the best!
T&W: And poetry doesn’t make you tired?
Ahrar: No! With poetry, my hand is happy.
T&W: Why do you think using your imagination is important?
Ahrar: Well, you can use your imagination to look at a real thing, and pretend that it’s something else. You just use simile and metaphor! You see something and then you can change it. Like, you see that door? You can make that door into something else, just like that.
T&W: What was the favorite poetry-writing exercise you did with Mr. Matthew?
Ahrar: Oh, the “I Am” poem, the first one we wrote. You just write “I am…” and then you write the things you want to be.
T&W: What do you want to be when you grow up?
AS: I want to be part of the government, the higher government, so I don’t have to walk. I can just get money, and sit, and eat. And breathe.
T&W: Do you think you’ll still write poetry?
Ahrar: Yeah. I know I’ll write letters—they’re kind of like poetry. I’m not sure the people in government write poetry. But I think Barack Obama likes poetry. So maybe I could do both. My full-time job could be the higher government, and my part-time job could be like Mr. Matthew, a professor and a poet.
Winter is a boy with rough weather.
Winter likes to play snowball fights
and destroy snow mountains.
Winter likes to eat snow burgers
and drink snowco-cola and hot snowcolate.
Winter likes to play snow and seek.
Winter lives in New Snowville,
35 miles from the snoway.
The snoway is in Snow City.
Snow City is in Snow State.
Snow State is in Snow Country.
Snow Country is in SNOWWORLD.
Snoworld is in Snowuniverse.
By Matthew Burgess
As a rule, I give students permission to write about whatever they want. I believe strongly that we should allow young writers to follow their impulses and ideas without fear of “getting it wrong.” That said, when Ahrar asked me if he could write his “season poem” about a video-game demon named Slender, I hesitated. He had written two or three poems about Slender already, and I sensed that he needed a nudge in a different direction. So I said no—and I’m so glad that I did. Ahrar took my suggestion in stride and went on to create this astonishing piece—one of my favorite poems of the residency.
The lesson focuses primarily on personification, and I begin by sharing two poems by Langston Hughes: “Africa” and “Freedom.” I define personification on the board and we discuss how Hughes uses this device. Then I pivot to a collaborative poem on the board. After listing the four seasons, we write a poem “pretending that a season is a person.” A series of simple questions gives the poem’s basic structure: 1. Is our season a boy or a girl? 2. What does our season look like? (eye color, hair color, etc.) 3. What is our season wearing? (Students design the season’s outfit.) 4. What does our season like to do in his/her free time? 5. What does she or he say? 6. Where does she or he live? You can adapt the list as desired, and throughout the process, I push for vivid sensory detail. For example, if a student offers “Summer is a girl with blue eyes,” I might ask for a particular shade of blue, or I might dig for a simile: “Blue like what?” The line becomes: “Summer is a girl with turquoise eyes that sparkle like the sea.” Once the collaborative poem is complete, we read it aloud together, snap, and I segue to individual writing with a few simple instructions: Choose a season, use personification, and describe it using “delicious details.”