Workshop: Finding Yourself in Stuff: Identity in Found Poetry and Collage

Here’s a workshop I conducted today at 826CHI.

WORKSHOP CHECKLIST:

1. Detailed explanation: see below
2. Syllabus: see below
3. Sessions: One session of 1.5 or 2 hours (see below for timing)
4. Dates/ times: I can do Monday or Wednesday weekday evening or any weekend afternoon
5. Age range: workshop can accommodate any of the ranges (Eight to ten, eleven to fourteen, and fourteen to eighteen.)
6. Ten to fifteen students with 2 or 3 TAs to help students in the individual found poem/ collage creation period.
7. Final product: one-sheet poem on stiff cardboard with a collage on the back showing the original materials from which the poem was constructed.
8. Catchy title: Finding You In Stuff: Identity in Found Poetry & Collage

Finding You In Stuff: Identity in Found Poetry & Collage

How do we define ourselves? This workshop will use the castoff words of life—receipts, notes from kids in school, snippets from our journals, random lines from textbooks, etc.—to show how identity can be drawn from the stuff around you as well as the thoughts inside you.

Lots of kids are familiar with the concept of pouring out their innermost thoughts onto paper to express themselves. This workshop approaches the concept of expression differently—from the outside in. We’ll see that the text that surrounds can be surprisingly useful in defining who we are in a literary way.

At the end of our class, we’ll have a one-sheet poem on stiff cardboard with a collage on the back showing the original materials from which the poem was constructed.

MATERIALS

  • The kid’s backpacks, with all their stuff in it. Make sure they bring in scraps of paper that they would normally throw away.
  • Journals
  • Stiff cardboard-type paper or the backs of pads of paper
  • Glue, scissors, and tape
  • Whiteboard or easel with paper

PROCEDURE
Explain the concept of found art with Duchamps’ “Fountain” as the primary example. Discuss how the artist’s acts of isolating, elevating, and naming ordinary things are essential to new art creation. (10 minutes)

Talk about Andy Warhol and other modern art examples of collage and appropriation. (10 minutes)

Read “The Finger”, a found poem I wrote and talk about how found text works its way into liteerature. (10 minutes)

Explain the concept of identity and surroundings— how your clothes, your school, your neighborhood, your name, and other “facts” about us have a part in defining us. In short, who we are is inescapably expressed in the things around us. (5 minutes)

Show an example—a recent store receipt from the instructor pulled out of a pocket. Talk about how the items purchased (diapers, toys, diaper cream, etc.) can be put together to identify the owner of the receipt. You are what you eat, etc. (5 minutes)

Then do a found poem together with the group that defines them broadly. Take things from the books in the room, snippets from random journals, a part of the lesson plan, etc. (30 minutes)

Then work with the children to do their own found poems with the materials they brought—anything from their bags, books, pockets, etc. Fashion the poem on the front and tape/ glue/ staple a collage of the original materials on the back. (30-45 minutes)

Training: Poetry Lesson Plans Galore

Over the last few years, I’ve developed a number of poetry lesson plans and delivered them to schools all over the Chicago area. Here they are, for sharing and safe-keeping.

FOUND POEMS
Objective: Students will be introduced to the idea of found poetry– poetry that they find, isolate, and elevate.

–We start by talking about the idea of art in everyday lives– how easy it is, if you are looking, to find instances of art in the world
–Bridges, newspaper articles, a beautiful sign
–Then we talk about ideas of ownership– how the act of isolating and elevating a piece of art can be the act of ownership
–Then we use pieces of text from the classroom– journals, textbooks, posters, whatever– to create a new Found Poem on the board
–A somewhat manic and random exercise
–We write the poem on the board as we go along

Poetry Lesson Plan: Found Poetry

As usual, we copyright the poem at the end and talk about the fact that we made a new piece of art from stuff that already existed.

JOURNALING
Objective: Students will learn some concrete journaling skill and habits. We talk about the value of journaling over time, and introduce the idea that a piece of art may start off its life as a journal entry.

–We start by talking about the idea of art in everyday lives– how easy it is, if you are looking, to find instances of art in the world
–Bridges, newspaper articles, a beautiful sign
–Then we talk about ideas of ownership– how the act of isolating and elevating a piece of art can be the act of ownership
–Then we use pieces of text from the classroom– journals, textbooks, posters, whatever– to create a new Found Poem on the board
–A somewhat manic and random exercise
–We write the poem on the board as we go along

As usual, we copyright the poem at the end and talk about the fact that we made a new piece of art from stuff that already existed

CONCRETE POEMS
Objective: Students will be learn the principles of concrete poems; poems that form a picture of the topic or follows the contours of a shape that is suggested by the topic of the poem. Kids will be create a concrete poem at the end of the session.

–We start by explaining the concept of concrete poetry and provide some examples
— Talk about how letters can be more than just parts of language, but can have a language of itself
–Talk about modern typography and how different typefaces can transmit different feelings, meanings, etc.
–Then we talk about what they’d like to write a poems about
–Then get down to the business of the poems

CUT-UP POEMS
Objective: Students will understand that expressive, presonal poems can be made from existing materials and will create new poems

–We start by talking about recycling in our daily lives– blue bags, aluminum cans, etc.
–And talk about people who create new art from recycled materials– Mr. Imagination, for example
–And the idea that an artist can create highly personal statements from other stuff
–Then we pull out magazines, old books, and other materials that we’ve collected in preparation for the class
–Then the kids create poems new poems from all the stuff

POETRY OUT LOUD
Objective: Students will learn about the foundations of poetry read out loud in front of audience. At this level, the focus is on just “getting it out” and encouraging students to get up in front of the class.

–We start by making sure that the kids know they will not be forced to read in front of the class– remove fear and encourage joy
–The kids come up with a poem– they may already have one, or they write it on the spot
–Again, the focus is not really on the text/ meaning of the poems, as long as they have something to share
–I start off by reading one of my poems. Make it a dramatic one that makes them laugh and has lots of rising/ descending, voices, and so on
–Discuss the different elements of the poem that made it good to read out loud
–Kids are called up in order to read their poems. This makes certain that the more outgoing kids don’t dominate the session and everyone gets a turn in due course
Kids who don’t want to read their poem don’t have to. I will read them out loud for them, and point out the good parts as I go along.

Poetry Lesson Plan: Poetry Out Loud

THE BOOK OF YOU
Objective: Students will be learn some concrete journaling skill and habits. We talk about the value of journaling over time, and introduce the idea that a piece of art may start off its life as a journal entry.

–We start by talking about material– what things are made of. Paintings are made of paint and canvas, donuts are made of jelly and dough, and so on
–We read some poems from a book and talk about the paper, the binding, and the ink– the stuff it is made of
–Then we talk about the real thing that poems are made of– words.
–We show them a brown paper bag containing strips of words cut from magazines, newspapers, and discarded books
–We dump out the strips unceremoniously on a table and ask each child to pick out a strip in succession
–We write the poem on the board as we go along
As usual, we copyright the poem at the end and talk about the fact that we made a new piece of art from stuff that already existed

THE ANSWER TO THE QUESTION, “WHAT HAPPENED”?
Objective: Students will learn the universal importance of perspective and history and also have a greater understanding of defining their own histories.

–We start by talking about how many different professions and endeavors focus on the question, “what happened?”– lawyers, journalists, clerks of court, etc.
–Then we talk about their own answers– to the question– do they write in journals?
–Show them a box containing dozens of my own journals– sheer weight
–Then talk about the importance of honesty with yourself while writing in a journal– don’t fool a fool
–And move on to writing a poem expressing their version of “what happened” in something in their life
The kids are encouraged to read their poems out loud

Training: Week-Long Computer Camp for Kids at Wright College

This month I taught a course of 15 elementary and high school students in a week-long “computer camp”. We had a great set of people who were eager to learn and well-behaved. On the first day of class we learned about our backgrounds with computers and the rules that we all followed at home about Internet access. We all decided that we were not going to do or learn anything in class that was not allowed at home.

Software Tool Review
We covered a wide variety of software tools. The common thing to remember is how to approach software– learn the menus, use teh Help files, and remember that software is logical. Most important lesson: you’ve got to waster your time to learn anything worthwhile.

  • We learned FrontPage in class, which is a Microsoft-based product that is well-integrated with other common MS Office software
  • We also learned a little bit about Macromedia Dreamweaver. This is the best WYSIWIGeditor around. You can get a free trial version of it, along with other products, here
  • We covered Microsoft PowerPoint, which many of the kids have already learned. Good for doing animations and making crazy things move. You can also publish to the web from this application and just about all of the other ones we covered if you have FTP access to a website
  • We downloaded and learned Site Spinner, which is the tool that we used to create this page
  • We also took at look at Micosoft Excel, which is a very powerful program for managing numbers and formulas
  • We learned Adobe PhotoShop and saw how software treats each object separately, allowing us to control the properties for each item. You can get a free trial version here
  • We also spent some time on Microsoft Publisher

Web Site Hosting Resources
Just like we talked about in class, the most important thing when approaching the Internet is to adhere to your household’s rules. These links are provided as some possible free resourecs.

  • Yahoo! – good page-builder tools for free. A GeoCities Plus account with FTP access will cost $5 per month.
  • Angelfire – free. Lots of kids use Angelfire and there are kids communities there.
  • AOL Hometown has free accounts with unlimited space and free FTP access
  • Freewebs.com – free, lots of space, free cool layouts
  • DMOZ Listing – a great list of age-appropriate hosts

Sites
Here are links to some of the sites we made in class:

Other Resources
Anything you need to know about the Internet is on the Internet. And remember– don’t pay for anything.