Friday, October 30, 2009

Greek Tragedy Writing - 3rd Day - Outlines

Today was an early release day. Students worked in their groups on finishing outlines and character sheets, then started designing their masks.

Homework due Monday: On drawing paper, sketch and color a design for your character's mask. If you play more than one character, make a mask design for each. On the back of your paper, list any special materials you might need for your mask (sequins, glitter, feathers, gold coins, etc.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Greek Tragedy Writing - 2nd Day - Outlines

Warmup: Students wrote about who their tragic hero is and how her/his tragic flaw leads to her/his downfall.

Students then worked in their groups to complete both the Tragedy Worksheet started yesterday and today's handout, the Play Outline. This provided the play's structure - prologue, parodos, episode, stasimon, exodos - and places to write in the characters and action for each part. We talked a bit about how the climax takes place offstage and at what point it's necessary to show the tragic hero's psychic suffering. We also discussed the need to make the tragic hero a sympathetic character with some good qualities, so that the audience can feel pity and fear. The worksheets were handed in at the end of class.

Tomorrow: complete character worksheets for each person in group.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Greek Tragedy Writing - 1st Day

Warmup: in notebooks, students listed as many familiar stories as they could remember and circled the ones they thought might make good tragedies.

Brainstorm: on the board, we listed the stories and talked about who the tragic hero would be in several of them. We erased the ones that wouldn't work at all.

Each section was divided into groups of 5 to 6 students. Groups chose from the stories on the board and got started filling out the Tragedy Worksheets.

Tomorrow: complete Tragedy Worksheets, review structure of Greek tragedy, fill out character sheets for each person

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Intro to Greek Tragedy

Above: Bust of Sophocles, 4th century BC

Tragic Hero:

-Has tragic flaw, usu. hubris: Overbearing pride or presumption; arrogance

-Goes from high to low

-Is an important person

-Suffers psychically/emotionally

Characteristics of Greek drama:

-Uses story that will be familiar to audience

-Late point of attack - point in story after the characters and setting are established, but a little while before the climax

-Violence takes place offstage

-Messengers used to tell characters about offstage action

-catharsis: emotional purgation that returns balance (Oedipus is banished and Thebes is restored)

-arouses pity and fear in audience

Actors: all men, usu. 3 actors who played multiple parts, masks

Chorus: comments on play, dialogue w/actors, sings and dances


Prologue - one or two characters give mythological background of play

Parodos - chorus enters - they are the "moral voice" of the play

Episode - action with characters, dialogue, monologue

Stasimon - chorus summarizes previous episode in verse

Exodos - end of play; chorus gives speech, "moral of the story"


- 3 male actors represented all characters, using masks

- chorus of 12, some could act as incidental, non-speaking characters (like Oedipus' daughters Antigone and Ismene)

Sophocles (born 495 BC, died 405 BC)

- only 7 out of his 120 plays remain

-1st playwright to add third actor

-1st playwright to write tragedies that stand on their own, not as part of a trilogy

Origins of Greek Drama

-late 7th century BC, first plays called "tragedoi," sung by groups of men dressed as satyrs

-6th century BC, Pisistratus creates Dionysia, a 3-day state religious festival in Athens

-Thespis was a famous actor and the first playwright, winning the Dionysia in 536-533

Monday, October 26, 2009

Reader's Theatre

Today was our reading of Oedipus the King. Students took notes during the reading and wrote down two discussion questions for tomorrow. We went over the Actor's Goals, below, to help students know what to look for in their own and other actors' performances.

Student Actor Goals:

Poise/Focus: staying in character, no giggling, knowing lines
Characterization: show understanding of role through vocal inflection, facial expressions, and body language
Eye contact: look up at audience and other actors as much as possible
Projection/Diction: loud, clear voice with good enunciation; no yelling
Pace: speed of performance neither too fast nor too slow
Ensemble: working with other actors; timing
Peer Evaluation/Questions: notes taken during reading, plus good, open-ended discussion questions

I was so impressed with how well prepared students were, and especially with those who volunteered to read more at the last minute to fill in for absent actors. You all took this challenging play seriously and did your best!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Park Bench, Bus Stop, and Oedipus the King

A Greek drama mask sculpted in stone

Homework for Monday: Read your assigned section of Oedipus the King. Highlight the lines you will read aloud. Characters were assigned in class. Make sure you mark any unfamiliar words, look them up, and know how to pronounce them.

The play is divided into sections. Everyone should read the list of Characters and the description of the Scene on page 1.

Section 1: starts on p.1 with Oedipus' first line "Children, why do you sit here...," continues to the end of page 2, concluding with "[Oedipus returns.]"

Section 2: Starts on p. 3 with Oedipus' monologue, continues to halfway down p. 4, concluding with "[Teiresias and Oedipus exit separately]"

Section 3: Starts on p. 4 with the Chorus: "By Delphi's oracle, who is proclaimed..." and ends 1/4 of the way down p. 7 with Jocasta's line and the direction "[They exit]"

Section 4: Starts on p. 7 with Chorus: "I pray that I may keep pure..." and ends halfway down p. 9 with "[Exit all but the Chorus. A messenger enters.]"

Section 5: Starts on p. 9 with Second Messenger: "O princes, our glorious queen Jocasta is dead." and ends at the bottom of p. 10

Today we did more character, imagination, and attention work with improv games. We started with a student-led physical warmup, did Group Walks using internal emotions, and tried out different characters with motivations, needs, or personality traits for Park Bench and Bus Stop.
Next week we start the Greek drama unit with Reader's Theatre. Then we'll move on to a general introduction of Greek drama and start writing plots and characters for our Greek plays.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Drama: showing emotion and character

All sections did drama exercises for the entire class period today. Here are a few things we tried:

1. Review of the Actor's Job and Actor's Tools, plus additional goals for today, like "do something you haven't tried before" and "feel the emotion you're trying to communicate; don't just pretend."
2. Breath of Fire: stick your tongue out and pant like a dog. Then try it with your mouth closed so the air moves through your nose and you can feel your belly button moving.
3. Tongue twisters
4. Group imagination walk, led by student
5. This is a Test
6. Character walks
7. Character walks with emotions
8. Park Bench: entrances, exits, transitions, needs, dialogue

Tomorrow: more character work, Bus Stop, assign parts for Reader's Theatre on Monday

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Drama: Character

Sections are moving at different speeds getting through the drama unit, so here's what we did in each:

6B benefits from the extra few minutes of announcement time in the mornings, apparently, because this section zoomed through dramatizing the Labors of Heracles yesterday and managed to do some solid character work today. First we discussed the Actor's Job and the Actor's Tools (see yesterday's post for those notes), then we tried out some exercises for imagination and living in character.
1. Guided group walks
2. This is a Test with emotions
3. Character Walks
a. Across circle
b. To center and back, with emotions

6D finished dramatizing the Labors, with spectacular results, like a particularly expressive and ferocious Cerberus. We talked about the Actor's Job and Tools, and got some great examples from students of using the imagination to create places and objects on stage.

6A was particularly drowsy today, but nevertheless worked through the remainder of the Labors heroically. We spoke about the Actor's Job and Tools, focusing on consistency (staying in character, making imaginary places real), and finally did Group Walk and one quick round of This is a Test.

Tomorrow, we will do more character work and improvisations to prepare for creating characters on Friday and learning about Greek theatre next week.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Labors of Heracles - Dramatization

Warmup: everyone re-read the Labors quickly, paying attention to the sequence of events in each Labor in order to prepare for their parts.

In class, directors selected actors to represent the different characters, monsters, and places from the story of Heracles' Labors. Actors acted out each Labor while the Narrator read, then we reflected on what worked, what didn't, and the job of the actor and the director.

Tomorrow, we will finish up any leftover Labors, then start going in depth with characters and improvisation. Later this week, we'll start exploring Greek drama and, if there's time, do a reading of Oedipus the King, by Sophocles.

Here are my notes for actors so far:

Actor's job:

  • listen

  • respond

  • give and receive focus

  • show, don't tell - use concrete sensory details

  • character: appearance, movement, voice, decisions

  • objects: look, find, manipulate, release

  • setting: locate landmarks and maintain

  • story: cause and effect sequence - have a reason

  • communicate with audience by communicating with each other

  • be consistent

Actor's tools:

  • voice

  • body

  • imagination

  • attention

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Labors of Heracles

Heracles fighting the Stymphalian Birds

Welcome back! I hope everyone had a great break.

Today in class, students took turns reading from the Labors of Heracles. The spelling of "Heracles," is more true to the original Greek pronunciation, even though we're more familiar with the Roman "Hercules." The stories of Heracles' adventures are very similar in both Greek and Roman retellings, with some variations, as you'll see.

Tomorrow we will act out each labor dramatically - directors were assigned for each. The directors' job will be to carefully read over their Labor, decide how many actors they'll need to represent Heracles, monsters, caves, other heroes, etc., and tell their actors what to do as the Narrator tells the story.

The Labors of Heracles

When he had come of age and already proved himself an unerring marksman with a bow and arrow, a champion wrestler and the possessor of superhuman strength, Heracles was driven mad by Hera. In a frenzy, he killed his own children. To atone for this crime, he was sentenced to perform a series of tasks, or "Labors", for his cousin Eurystheus, the king of Tiryns and Mycenae. By rights, Heracles should have been king himself, but Hera had tricked her husband Zeus into crowning Eurystheus instead.

Labor One: The Nemean Lion

As his first Labor, Heracles was challenged to kill the Nemean lion. This was no easy feat, for the beast's parentage was supernatural and it was more of a monster than an ordinary lion. Its skin could not be penetrated by spears or arrows. Heracles blocked off the entrances to the lion's cave, crawled into the close confines where it would have to fight face to face and throttled it to death with his bare hands. Ever afterwards he wore the lion's skin as a cloak and its gaping jaws as a helmet.

Labor Two: The Hydra

King Eurystheus was so afraid of his heroic cousin that when he saw him coming with the Nemean lion on his shoulder, he hid in a storage jar. From this shelter he issued the order for the next Labor. Heracles was to seek out and destroy the monstrous and many-headed Hydra. The mythmakers agree that the Hydra lived in the swamps of Lerna, but they seem to have had trouble counting its heads. Some said that the Hydra had eight or nine, while others claimed as many as ten thousand. All agreed, however, that as soon as one head was beaten down or chopped off, two more grew in its place.

To make matters worse, the Hydra's very breath was lethal. Even smelling its footprints was enough to kill an ordinary mortal. Fortunately, Heracles was no ordinary mortal. He sought out the monster in its lair and brought it out into the open with flaming arrows. But now the fight went in the Hydra's favor. It twined its many heads around the hero and tried to trip him up. It called on an ally, a huge crab that also lived in the swamp. The crab bit Heracles in the heel and further impeded his attack. Heracles was on the verge of failure when he remembered his nephew, Iolaus, the son of his twin brother Iphicles.

Iolaus, who had driven Heracles to Lerna in a chariot, looked on in anxiety as his uncle became entangled in the Hydra's snaky heads. Finally he could bear it no longer. In response to his uncle's shouts, he grabbed a burning torch and dashed into the fray. Now, as soon as Heracles cut off one of the Hydra's heads, Iolaus was there to sear the wounded neck with flame. This kept further heads from sprouting. Heracles cut off the heads one by one, with Iolaus cauterizing the wounds. Finally Heracles lopped off the one head that was supposedly immortal and buried it deep beneath a rock.

Labor Three: the Cerynitian Hind

The third Labor was the capture of the Cerynitian hind. Though a female deer, this fleet-footed beast had golden horns. It was sacred to Artemis, goddess of the hunt, so Heracles dared not wound it. He hunted it for an entire year before running it down on the banks of the River Ladon in Arcadia. Taking careful aim with his bow, he fired an arrow between the tendons and bones of the two forelegs, pinning it down without drawing blood. All the same, Artemis was displeased, but Heracles dodged her wrath by blaming his taskmaster Eurystheus.

Labor Four: the Erymanthian Boar

The fourth Labor took Heracles back to Arcadia in quest of an enormous boar, which he was challenged to bring back alive. While tracking it down he stopped to visit the centaur Pholus. This creature -- half-horse, half-man -- was examining one of the hero's arrows when he accidentally dropped it on his foot. Because it had been soaked in poisonous Hydra venom, Pholus succumbed immediately. Heracles finally located the boar on Mount Erymanthus and managed to drive it into a snowbank, immobilizing it. Flinging it up onto his shoulder, he carried it back to Eurystheus, who cowered as usual in his storage jar.

Labor Five: The Augean Stables

Eurystheus was very pleased with himself for dreaming up the next Labor, which he was sure would humiliate his heroic cousin. Heracles was to clean out the stables of King Augeas in a single day. Augeas possessed vast herds of cattle which had deposited their manure in such quantity over the years that a thick aroma hung over the entire Peloponnesus. Instead of employing a shovel and a basket as Eurystheus imagined, Heracles diverted two rivers through the stableyard and got the job done without getting dirty. But because he had demanded payment of Augeas, Eurystheus refused to count this as a Labor.

Labor Six: The Stymphalian Birds

The sixth Labor pitted Heracles against the Stymphalian birds, who inhabited a marsh near Lake Stymphalus in Arcadia. The sources differ as to whether these birds feasted on human flesh, killed men by shooting them with feathers of brass or merely constituted a nuisance because of their number. Heracles could not approach the birds to fight them - the ground was too swampy to bear his weight and too mucky to wade through. Finally he resorted to some castanets given to him by the goddess Athena. By making a racket with these, he caused the birds to take wing. And once they were in the air, he brought them down by the dozens with his arrows.

Labor Seven: the Cretan Bull

Queen Pasiphae of Crete had been inspired by a vengeful god to fall in love with a bull, with the result that the Minotaur was born -- a monster half-man and half-bull that haunted the Labyrinth of King Minos. Pasiphae's husband was understandably eager to be rid of the bull, which was also ravaging the Cretan countryside, so Hercules was assigned the task as his seventh Labor. Although the beast belched flames, the hero overpowered it and shipped it back to the mainland. It ended up near Athens, where it became the duty of another hero, Theseus, to deal with it once more.

Labor Eight: the Mares of Diomedes

Next Heracles was instructed to bring Eurystheus the mares of Diomedes. These horses dined on the flesh of travelers who made the mistake of accepting Diomedes' hospitality. In one version of the myth, Heracles pacified the beasts by feeding them their own master. In another, they satisfied their appetites on the hero's squire, a young man named Abderus. In any case, Heracles soon rounded them up and herded them down to sea, where he embarked them for Tiryns. Once he had shown them to Eurystheus, he released them. They were eventually eaten by wild animals on Mount Olympus.

Labor Nine: Hippolyte's Belt

The ninth Labor took Heracles to the land of the Amazons, to retrieve the belt of their queen for Eurystheus' daughter. The Amazons were a race of warrior women, great archers who had invented the art of fighting from horseback. Heracles recruited a number of heroes to accompany him on this expedition, among them Theseus. As it turned out, the Amazon queen, Hippolyte, willingly gave Hercules her belt, but Hera was not about to let the hero get off so easily. The goddess stirred up the Amazons with a rumor that the Greeks had captured their queen, and a great battle ensued. Heracles made off with the belt, and Theseus kidnapped an Amazon princess.

Labor Ten: the Cattle of Geryon

In creating monsters and formidable foes, the Greek mythmakers used a simple technique of multiplication. Thus Geryon, the owner of some famous cattle that Heracles was now instructed to steal, had three heads and/or three separate bodies from the waist down. His watchdog, Orthrus, had only two heads. This Labor took place somewhere in the country we know as Spain. The hound Orthrus rushed at Heracles as he was making off with the cattle, and the hero killed him with a single blow from the wooden club which he customarily carried. Geryon was dispatched as well, and Heracles drove the herd back to Greece, taking a wrong turn along the way and passing through Italy.

Labor Eleven: the Apples of the Hesperides

The Hesperides were nymphs entrusted by the goddess Hera with certain apples which she had received as a wedding present. These were kept in a grove surrounded by a high wall and guarded by Ladon, a many-headed dragon. The grove was located in the far-western mountains named for Atlas, one of the Titans or first generation of gods. Atlas had sided with one of his brothers in a war against Zeus. In punishment, he was compelled to support the weight of the heavens by means of a pillar on his shoulders. Heracles, in quest of the apples, had been told that he would never get the them without the aid of Atlas.

The Titan was only too happy to oblige. He told the hero to hold the pillar while he went to retrieve the fruit. But first Heracles had to kill the dragon by means of an arrow over the garden wall. Atlas soon returned with the apples but now realized how nice it was not to have to strain for eternity keeping heaven and earth apart. Heracles wondered if Atlas would mind taking back the pillar just long enough for him to fetch a cushion for his shoulder. The Titan obliged and Heracles strolled off, neglecting to return.

Labor Twelve: the Capture of Cerberus

As his final Labor, Heracles was instructed to bring the hellhound Cerberus up from Hades, the kingdom of the dead. The first barrier to the soul's journey beyond the grave was the most famous river of the Underworld, the Styx. Here the newly dead congregated as insubstantial shades, mere wraiths of their former selves, awaiting passage in the ferryboat of Charon the Boatman. Charon wouldn't take anyone across unless they met two conditions. Firstly, they had to pay a bribe in the form of a coin under the corpse's tongue. And secondly, they had to be dead. Heracles met neither condition, a circumstance which aggravated Charon's natural grouchiness.

But Heracles simply glowered so fiercely that Charon meekly conveyed him across the Styx. The greater challenge was Cerberus, who had razor teeth, three (or maybe fifty) heads, a venomous snake for a tail and another swarm of snakes growing out of his back. These lashed at Heracles while Cerberus lunged for a purchase on his throat. Fortunately, the hero was wearing his trusty lion's skin, which was impenetrable by anything short of a thunderbolt from Zeus. Heracles eventually choked Cerberus into submission and dragged him to Tiryns, where he received due credit for this final Labor.


Heracles had a great many other adventures, in after years as well as in between his Labors. It was poisonous Hydra venom that eventually brought about his demise. He had allowed a centaur to ferry his wife Deianara across a river, and the centaur had attacked her on the other side. Heracles killed him with an arrow, but before he died he told Deinara to keep some of his blood for a love potion. Deinara used some on Heracles' tunic to keep him faithful, little realizing that it had been poisoned with Hydra venom from the arrow. Heracles donned the tunic and died in agony.


Heracles was the only hero to become a full-fledged god upon his demise, but even in his case there was his mortal aspect to be dealt with. By virtue of his spectacular achievements, even by heroic standards, he was given a home on Mount Olympus and a goddess for a wife. But part of him had come not from his father Zeus but from his mortal mother Alcmene, and that part was sent to the Underworld. As a phantasm it eternally roams the Elysian Fields in the company of other heroes.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Poetry Unit Wrap-up

Introduction to Poetry

Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.


1. Finish revising your concrete poem and copy onto a clean sheet of paper.

2. Finish poetry unit evaluation form and hand in at my desk.

3. Use writing prompts to get ideas. Write quietly on your own until everyone is finished.

4. Last 15 minutes of class: read concrete poems aloud. Hand in.

Homework: None! Enjoy your fall break.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Revise and Rewrite

Warmup: Students chose 2 items out of a list of boring phrases to rewrite poetically. The boring phrases:

1. The fire scared me.
2. Flowers bloomed near the house.
3. A small, colorful fish swam.
4. Something sad happened.
5. It was cold outside.

We shared some of the rewrites and talked about different ways to rewrite our poems to make them more exciting and meaningful. A favorite from 6B: "The fire tossed me up and caught me in its flames." Wow!

1. Appeal to the senses
2. Name names: be specific about things you're describing. What kind of tree is it? What kind of bird?
3. Show, don't tell. Your reader can figure out what you mean. Trust them, don't hit them over the head with meaning.
4. Figurative language adds spice.
5. Use concrete details in your descriptions, and be specific.
6. Filler words: search and destroy! Get rid of redundant words, or strings of words that over-explain, or words that don't say anything but that you just stuck in there to make a rhyme.

Students partnered up to read each other's concrete poems and give advice. The main thing you want to ask your partner is "Does this make sense?" If your partner can't tell you what the poem means, then it might be time for a rewrite. Your next task is to go through the poem one line at a time and ask "How does this line help the reader understand the meaning of the poem?"

One way to think about poetry is that it's like a mystery novel. You want your reader to do some of the work to figure out the mystery - the meaning of the poem - but you need to give them enough clues to do so. That's why it's good to get rid of filler words. Your reader doesn't know which words are important right away - you show them which ones are important to the meaning of the poem by making those words more interesting with figurative language, specific details, rhythm, and all the other poetic devices we've been talking about.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Rhythm in Poetry

Homework: Read both sides of handout about "Rhythm and Meter" and "First Lines"

Warmup: Copy "Counting-Out Rhyme" by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Underline and label different parts of figurative language.

Silver bark of beech, and sallow
Bark of yellow birch and yellow
Twig of willow.

Stripe of green in moosewood maple,
Colour seen in leaf of apple,
Bark of popple.

Wood of popple pale as moonbeam,
Wood of oak for yoke and barn-beam,
Wood of hornbeam.

Silver bark of beech, and hollow
Stem of elder, tall and yellow
Twig of willow.

If you read this poem to a 4/4 beat, all the stresses fall on the first and third syllables. Try it out!

Silver bark of beech, and sallow
Bark of yellow birch and yellow
Twig of willow.

Pretty great, right? You could easily sing this poem to a melody.

For our next exercise, we listed some well-known songs on the board, like "Happy Birthday," "London Bridge," and "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Students kept the rhythm of the songs but rewrote the lyrics, to hilarious effect.

Then we looked at some limericks, which have a very specific rhythm and rhyme scheme. Students wrote their own limericks and shared them out loud.

Tomorrow: Time to revise again! Concrete poems will be due at the end of the period.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Haiku part deux and the Art of Revision

Warmup: Haiku writing on the theme of Saturday

1. We shared some haiku out loud and talked about how to cut out unnecessary words to leave just the good stuff.

2. The class watched their section's junk band performances, received a CD with the videos, and were handed back their evaluations with grades for the project. The videos require Quicktime to be viewed, which can be downloaded in a few minutes from the Apple website. Instructions are on the README files on each disc.

3. Revision time! Students got their poems back and partnered up for rewriting. Some tips:
  • Cliches: search and destroy! Replace overused, tired or common phrases with fresh new ones
  • Accidental repetition: find and rephrase. Pretty often, poetry students will get caught up just getting words on the page and they'll end up repeating words or phrases that, while accurate, could be expressed more vividly. Repetition that you use on purpose to emphasize an idea is okay. Good repetition: "Oh captain, my captain!" Dull repetition: "The wind blows in my face. My hair was blown back by the wind. The wind blew."
  • Abstract words and phrases: figure out if you can express that idea more precisely and beautifully by using a concrete description. "Fun" is abstract. "the electricity that shoots up my spine at the very top of the roller coaster" is concrete. Abstract words are often too general to express exactly what you mean, so get specific. Show, don't tell!
  • Awkward rhyme: trash it. If trying to fit a rhyme scheme made you choose a word you don't really mean, get rid of it.
No homework tonight. We'll rewrite more tomorrow and get started on a final poetry project due Friday.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Haiku poetry

Warmup: 5 min. free write. You can do this any time you get "stuck" to jump start your writing. Just sit and write uninterrupted for 5 minutes. Don't worry about spelling or grammar, just dump whatever's in your head onto the page.

Classwork: some sections did Exquisite Corpses, some just went right into learning about haiku poetry. Haiku are short poems, usually three lines of seventeen syllables total (5 in the first line, 7 in the second line, 5 in the third line). They are very concrete and traditionally the subject is about something in nature, though modern haiku can be about anything. The best haiku are very compressed (using words that bring very strong images to mind) and often will introduce a description in the first line, an action or event in the second line, and "sum up" in the third line.

No homework for tonight. If you like writing poetry, though, I love reading it, so bring in your poems from home!

Here is a little bit about Basho's haiku from a scientist's website:

The images used by Basho in capturing the moment of truth were most often visual, as in the haiku about the frog, or the equally famous:

kareeda ni On the withered branch

karasu no tomarikeri A crow has alighted -----

aki no kure Nightfall in autumn.

This verse presents so sharp an image that it has often been painted. But Basho did not rely exclusively on visual images; the moment might equally well be perceived by one of other senses:

shizukasa ya Such stillness -----

iwa ni shimiiru The cries of the cicadas

semi no koe Sink into the rocks.

And sometimes the senses were mingled in a surprising modern way:

umi kurete The sea darkens,

kamo no koe The cries of the seagulls

honoka ni shirosi Are faintly white.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

More Poetic Devices

Homework: Due Monday, October 5th
Write a descriptive poem about an abstract topic. Each class picked a topic. 6B chose "flying." 6D chose "winter." 6A chose "sacrifice." The poem should use concrete descriptive words to say something about that abstract topic. You can use as many poetic devices as you like, but try to use at least two. Some poetic devices are:

hyperbole (exaggeration)


a story
a list of descriptive words that don't have a point
a list of phrases such as: "Winter smells like __________,"
or "Thursday tastes like __________."

The idea is that you are practicing writing that helps the reader form a picture in their mind. When you say "justice," for example, every person who hears it will have a different picture in their head. You don't communicate your unique ideas about justice unless you give the reader some concrete, specific details to chew on.

A helpful hint is to think of an example, some specific instance which expresses the idea of justice for you. You can use memory. Maybe you were playing a game once and somebody cheated and got caught. This doesn't necessarily have to be an example from real life. You can use your imagination. What would it feel like to be an Olympic athlete who got third place because another athlete cheated? What would it be like to be the cheater? Or the judge who finds out? What would justice look like in this situation?

After you've imagined or remembered your scenario, think about what specific concrete details you can use to show the reader what you think about justice in that scenario. Let's use our Olympic athlete. I might list a bunch of words like sweat, aching legs, breath, etc. that describe how the athlete feels physically. I might think about where they are, what the weather's like, what the crowd sounds like, how the other athletes look. I might think about how the first gulp of water tastes after a hard race. Then I start thinking about how it feels to lose a race to someone who you know doesn't deserve to win. What are some concrete words I could use to describe that feeling? Is it painful? What else can I compare it to?

If you get stuck with your poem, just keep asking questions like What if? What else? What would that be like? How would it feel? And don't worry! It's just a poem.

When you think you're finished, read through your poem carefully and check for cliches. See if you can change a familiar-sounding word or phrase to one that's more vivid or interesting. For example, saying something is big doesn't tell us much. But enormous, gigantic, titanic, and huge say a lot more about the size of what you're describing.

Enough from me already. Get writing! I can't wait to read your amazing poems.

Today's class:
For our warmup, we wrote Exquisite Corpse poems. Each student wrote the first two lines of a poem on a sheet of lined paper, then folded it over so only the last line was visible. Then they passed it to their neighbor, who wrote the next two lines, folded it down, and passed it along. When the poem got to the first student, they unfolded it, wrote a title, and read it aloud. These came out great!

We also practiced our pronunciation with an alliterative tongue twister written by Lewis Carroll, who also wrote Alice in Wonderland. Here it is:

What a to-do to die today at a minute or two to two,
A thing distinctly hard to say but harder still to do.
For they'll beat the tattoo at a quarter to two: A rat-ta tat-tat ta tat-tat ta to-to.
And the dragon will come when he hears the drum
At a minute or two to two today, at a minute or two to two.