Monday, May 20, 2013


by Jane Harrington

A creative friend of mine (okay, fellow writer and Pencil Tips blogger Jacqueline Jules) suggested I share some writing prompts from a book of mine, My Best Friend, the Atlantic Ocean and Other Great Bodies Standing Between Me and My Life With Giulio, a novel premised upon a high school freshman’s poetry journal from her English class. (Did I really just describe the book in fewer words than make up the title?) So, here are a few ideas from the missives of my protagonista, Delia:

Describing her teacher’s efforts to get his somewhat “blocked” students to produce SOMETHING, Delia writes, “He told us we should not feel ‘constrained’ by trying to make our poetry ‘fit into a structure’ as we write it. That to become good writers we need to ‘release the words and let them flap about on the winds of our creativity.’ He says the best writing comes from free writing about anything that inspires, and that later we can edit the writing down to its most ‘vital essence.’ And that, he says, will result in good poetry.” Delia responds well to this and has much fun with “flapping words.”

In other journal entries, Delia writes about how the teacher has the students using some unlikely sources for poetic inspiration, such as cellphones. He has them write out their text messages: “so boi wut up?” one student offers as a first line, noticing a similarity to rap or “fly” when he sees his texts set up as verse. The students also get an assignment to look to popular media, specifically advertising, to find uses of poetic devices. When one student passes a note calling the whole idea bogus, sarcastic Delia responds in her journal: “Read zines and watch the tube for homework? Yeah, sounds awful.”

There are other ideas that could be plucked from this short novel, so you may want to give it a read. Admittedly, looking to fiction for teaching ideas is sort of like asking a cartoon character for advice, but, hey, whatever works! Lots of libraries carry this book (and its prequel, which also has a ridiculously long title, much to the chagrin of librarians who have to catalog the things), and a BN or Amazon search should turn up cheapo used copies, far-too-expensive new ones, and reasonably-priced eBooks. I’ve yet to see a person reading these books without at least a few snorts of laughter, so you can always pass your copy along to a kid in need of a smile. (And I’m happy, always, to answer readers’ questions. There is an email link on my website.)

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