“Poetry. It’s better than war!”Michael Rothenberg, cofounder of 100,000 Poets (and friends) for Change
Introduction for grownups
This year (2018), 100,000 Poets for Change promoted its newest initiative, Read a Poem to a Child! Poets all over the world have visited schools, community centers, libraries, and living rooms to read poetry to children.
Update 28 September 2019: This initiative continued for a second year in 2019, with poets and others again reading poetry to children. More resources and supplies are available here.
As a supplement to this amazing sharing of poetry (and stories, music, art), I am sharing this updated and revised exercise. In 2013, I originally developed this exercise for some poetry workshops geared to upper-elementary school children in English language classes at The Jerusalem School of Beit Hanina, in East Jerusalem. The school’s motto is “Peace begins with me,” also the name of a poetry anthology for children. My workshops coincided with Peace Days at the school. This version is modified here for the blog and a different audience.
Please feel free to use this exercise with children you know or work with, and to modify it to your needs. I ask only that you give me credit for it and include the credits for the poems, if you use them.
Introduction for everybody
There are some words a poet might call “big.” They are not long words, with lots of letters. However, they are “big” because when you say them or when you read them, they hold a lot of things in them or a large, important meaning.
Now, if a word is very big, a poet may not want to use it in the poem at all. The whole poem may be about this very big word. If I put the word in my poem, though, it could break the poem. A person reading it would not know exactly what I meant by it. Or a person may mean one of the other things the word could mean.
Peace can be a very big word like that. We can all say we want peace. Every person might make a wish like this: “May Peace prevail on Earth.” (When something “prevails,” it wins, it is everywhere and leads everything.) Yet, the poet asks, “What do I mean by peace? What exactly is this peace I want?”
Poets can write about a big word like peace though, if they ask questions about it. They write about the answers they find. They do not always use the word “peace” when they do.
Let’s try to write a poem now, about peace. But don’t use the word peace!
Instead, ask some questions about peace, and write your answers down.
What kind of questions do poets ask?
Some of the questions poets ask have to do with the senses. Others have to do with places, or people, or things.
Below are some questions a poet might ask. They are here to help you write a poem about peace. You can ask your own questions, too.
Write down some answers to these questions (or your own, or both). You can make a list of words or phrases, write a sentence, a paragraph, a story, or a piece of a poem…
But you don’t have to write the whole poem. You will do that after answering the questions.
Some questions to help you start
1. What does peace look like? Is there a place that you go to or have gone to where you can see peace? Where the view looks like peace?
2. What would peace feel like, if you could touch it? Is there something you touch that feels like peace to you?
3. What does peace sound like? Is there a sound you hear every day or just sometimes that sounds like peace for you?
4 What about a taste? What would peace taste like ? Do you eat anything that tastes like peace?
5. What would peace smell like? Do you ever smell peace? What other things might smell like peace?
Some more questions
Your answers from the questions you just answered can help you answer some of these questions. Or, write new answers.
Imagine someone who doesn’t know what peace is. Try to describe peace to this person as though it is an object in the world.
What does it look like?
What does it sound like?
What does it smell like?
What does it taste like?
And, what does it feel like?
Imagine someone else who doesn’t know what peace is. Try to describe peace as something people do.
Who does it?
What do they do?
Where do they do it?
When do they do it?
Why do they do it?
How do they do it?
What do they look like doing it?
What do they sound like?
Write your own poem
Look over all of your answers. Can you think of other things to write to say more about your answers? Do you have other questions that you want to ask about peace?
Do some of your answers help you think of a poem to write?
Are some of your answers fun? Funny?
Do some excite you?
Do some seem very true to you?
Do the answers to one question seem connected to the answers to another one?
Now write down a poem. You can change it as you go. You can change it after it is all written down the first time, too.
Your poem can rhyme, but it doesn’t have to. The lines of a poem are usually short, but you can also write them longer. Usually, they are not really, really long.
Try it now!
Now that you have written a poem
- Go to The BeZine Virtual 100,000 Poets and Friends for Change, Global 2018 and share your poem in the comments section. We’d love to read it! Updated for 28 September 2019: Go to THE BeZINE’S Virtual 2019 100TPC Event…Poetry, Music, Art for Peace, Sustainability, Social Justice instead of the 2018 page…
- Go to page 2 to read two of my poems that I share with classes.
I loved your teaching and especially loved both of your poems! They inspired the following poem:
“Try to Imagine”
(Raanana, March 26, 2019)
Try to remember the feeling
Of your cheek against your mother’s breast
Or sitting in your father’s warm lap
But if you can’t remember,
Try to imagine.
What does it feel like?
Being wrapped in the safe protection
Of those arms, nothing could harm you;
How did that feel?
Is there anything more you’d want or need?
Is there anything more anyone’d want or need?
Your friends or neighbors?
The stranger passing you on the street?
Your sworn enemy, his friends, or his family?
Didn’t your enemy lay against his mother’s breast
Or savor the warmth of his father’s lap?
Didn’t he want to wrap his child
In the safety of his arms?
What is the word “enemy”
But a tag we put on other people
We don’t care about or hate
And they put on us?
But there is a thing that grows
The more it is consumed
And is worth the most
When consumed by everyone;
It lives by letting live,
And its name is peace.
You honor me, as always Mike. And you honor peace by writing it at this Time especially.
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You got to go to Green Gultch! How lovely. 🙂
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I did, more than once. The poem was from when I spent a week there… very lovely, indeed.
This is wonderful, Michael. Thank you.
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Thank you, Jamie.
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