Monday, December 3, 2012


I was listening just the other day to an NPR interview of Julie Bruck, the poet who just won the Governor General’s Literary Award in Canada (an honor about equal to our National Book Award). She recited an excellent poem about children and animals, and then went on to talk about how she keeps creativity moving along in her own life and the lives of her writing students. One way: Caves.

Yes, we writers and illustrators know about caves. At least those of the mind, where we have to regularly crawl into quiet nooks in order to hear the muse. And it was in that context that Julie spoke of caves, but it got me thinking of some creative hideaways of childhood. You know—the forts we made in our rec rooms, from couch cushions and blankets. These places had detailed backstories involving the Wild Things or the Star-bellied Sneeches, or sometimes they were train cars filled with escaped circus animals or dogs that found a door left ajar at the pound. The memory of these cozy conjuring compartments got me wondering if getting students to make “writing caves” at home might be a way-fun method to combat distractions and (oh, I’ve heard it from the mouths of babes) writer’s block. My own college-aged students would laugh at the notion of making a hideout—though secretly want to do it!—but the elementary set would probably hop right aboard.

Another vehicle for creativity that Canada’s poetess spoke of was…a vehicle! She free-writes something she calls “car pages” while sitting in a parking lot, and she asks her students to do the same. A lot of these ramblings seem to become excellent poems. So, that got me thinking, too. I don’t know about you, but I get the most amazing ideas when I am behind the wheel of a car. (Of course, I can’t write anything down, which is enormously frustrating, but….) What if we were to challenge our students to do some “backseat scribing”? Using Naomi Shihab Nye’s idea (from Mary Quattlebaum’s post of last week) the car could be that playful space filled with metaphor. I mean, what could possibly be a better symbol of protection than a seatbelt? Or maybe kids would get a kick out of creating dialogue between car parts, as with the side dishes in Jacqueline Jules’ November 19 post or Mary Amato’s “Talking Toothbrushes” (November 5). “Get your hands off of me!” the sassy steering wheel might say to Mom.

And, of course, verses borne of the world going by outside car windows or the folds of a fort—well, that’s poetry in motion, you’d have to say.

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