I am particularly fond of poets laureate. In my experience, every one I have met has a gentle, generous soul. Ava Leavell Haymon is no exception. She is the Poet Laureate of Louisiana for 2013-2014. She recently came to my hometown for a poetry reading. The best part of her visit was the personal time I was able to spend with her.
As a poet and teacher myself, much of our conversation turned to poetry and teaching. She told me about the technique of using anaphora. Anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive phrases for poetic effect. In her latest collection, Eldest Daughter, Ava uses anaphora in a few of her poems. She explained to me how this technique helps you focus on the details. A simple test: Read this poem aloud and then list all the details that you remember. There are probably quite a few.
Color of the Moon
Anyone can name a baby
Anyone can name the town, too, at least in theory
Anyone can name the color of the moon
Who can name the last time?
Who can see it coming far enough ahead?
Who can find the marigold bed?
Who can remember the smell?
Anyone can guess what happened
Anyone could forget the next day
Anyone could hear the conviction in her voice
Anyone could see she has it all mixed up
Who could forget a thing like that?
Who can see as far as the river?
Who can try any harder than she did?
Who could leave after that? Who could stay?
No one says the same thing any longer
No one remembers the last thing they said
No one quite remembers how they got there
No one wants to be outside alone
–Ava Leavell Haymon, used with permission by the author
Another poet-friend, Clare Martin, used this technique in a poem she had published in the Mad Hatters Review.
This morning the house empties its sugar.
This morning something good has gone to rot.
This morning fire catches the pillows under our heads.
This morning the ground quakes with your rising.
This morning the night no longer haunts the air.
This morning the mirror reflects another mirror. Who is there to see it?
This morning we feed ourselves silence after silence.
This morning the cup cracks.
This morning: a new sun.
This morning crooked lines right themselves.
This morning the cat reveals her throat in a yawn.
This morning we walk into spider webs.
T his morning grief sours on our tongues.
This morning is written on a blank sky.
This morning a woman becomes more herself.
This morning there are shards of china under our bare feet.
This morning we weep in our sewing.
–Clare L. Martin, all rights reserved
This method of writing a poem works for students in upper elementary through high school. Much like the I am From poem form of George Ella Lyons, the repetition of a line helps focus the poem. For my students in 6th grade, I gave them a list of possible beginning words to use, such as anyone, someone, today, yesterday, in time, when I knew you, this morning, everyone, everybody knows, for you, until, how often, etc.
Whenever I ask students to write to a prompt, I write too.
Something rustles the leaves.
Something steams on the stove—
beans, tomatoes, thyme.
Something sounds like the morning,
but the sun is low in the sky.
Something rocks the chair.
Something chimes in the distance—
a church bell? a neighbor’s wind chime?
Something enters this poem without
me knowing it’s there.
Something squirms in the window.
Something sparkles in her hand—
a crystal? glint of glitter?
Something feels as soft as my grandmother’s cheek
When I kissed her goodbye.
Margaret Simon is a Mississippi native who married into a Louisiana life. She lives on the Bayou Teche in New Iberia, Louisiana with her husband, Jeff. Their now empty nest once housed three daughters, Maggie, Katherine, and Martha. Margaret has been an elementary school teacher for over 20 years, most recently teaching gifted students in Iberia Parish. She has published poems in the journal The Aurorean, and wrote a chapter about teaching poetry to young children for Women on Poetry published in 2012 by McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers. Border Press published her collection of poems with her father’s Christmas card art, Illuminate in fall of 2013. Blessen, a novel for young readers, was published in April 2012, also by Border Press. In her teaching profession, she has a Masters degree in Gifted Education and certification by the National Boards for Professional Teaching Standards. Margaret writes regularly about teaching, writing, and living athttp://reflectionsontheteche.wordpress.com.