On the first day of school this year I introduced my class to William Carlos Williams' poem "A Locust Tree in Flower". I found the poem a few years ago while using some other of his poems in my class. I found it to be an unusual and simple poem, but there was something about it that begged me to ask, "What is this?"
I decided to use it in my class as a lesson on words and how we use them, as well as a clever introduction to poetry. In subsequent lessons I use "This is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams to teach poetry form versus paragraph form and "The Red Wheelbarrow" for creating meaning from insignificant details.
This year I handed out a sheet to every student with each word from the poem printed in random order on small squares that they could cut out. I asked them to try to put these words into some kind of written form and make sense out of them. I told them they could even add words if they needed to in order to give the words some meaning. The class played around with the words for a bit and discovered what they could or couldn't do with the words.
Later I showed them the poem, "A Locust Tree in Flower.
The class now saw the words expressed in a poem, but they still had a hard time making sense out of it. I have never studied this poem or read about how William Carlos Williams created it. Maybe there is a story behind it but I just tell the class that this poem reminds me of a puzzle. Each word is like a puzzle piece and some pieces are missing and the pieces may even be out of order, but they are jumbled up together to make this poem. We try imagining which words go together and what words could be missing to help create sensible phrases. By playing around with the words the students start making some meaning as well as have a fun time with words and language.
We talk about how poets can make their own rules and come up with rules for "The Locust Tree in Flower". We decided that William Carlos Williams only put one word on every line. He had four stanzas of three words each and one last word at the end. He gave it a title and placed his words randomly so that they didn't make sense when first reading it, although we can assume that he put great thought into the choice and placement of his words
Then we went outside to observe a Maple Tree on our playground that the kids are all familiar with because it stands right next to the school's playground equipment. We went outside with clipboards and observed the tree and they wrote words and phrases about what they observed
When we came inside we wrote out own "Maple Tree" poems following Williams Carlos Williams rules for writing his poem. A simple poem may take only minutes to write
I took digital pictures while we were outside and when the students later typed the poems into a computer (for their first simple typing exercise in the computer lab) I inserted a picture of the tree on their poem so that they could print it out and show off their first writing assignment of the year
I left the project behind and moved on as the year progressed until a found the Animoto video slideshow program. Within a few minutes of seeing how this program worked I thought to myself that this poem would lend itself wonderfully to being presented with Animoto. After playing with the program a bit and seeing how it worked I tried describing to the class my vision of what we could do with their poems. We didn't have much time so I had them write out the words to their poem on paper and use "tree" colors to color them in. Rather than cut them out I had them rip out the words. Then we went outside with those who completed the task quickly enough and took photos of each word on the wood chips underneath the maple tree. I wish I had more photos of the tree without the students in the photo from the first day, but I didn't know back then that I would be doing this project. I took the photos and uploaded them to the Animoto site and arranged them very quickly into some kind of order, chose a piece of music off the Animoto site, and then let the program perfrom its magic of arranging the poems into a digital-musical slideshow.
I think the results are wonderful and each video has its own flavor and design. At some points in the videos the photos, music, and transitions are just perfect for the poem the student wrote
Take a look at the results. Don't you think these are great.
While I was looking up information on the poem online, I found another interesting video presentation of "The Locust Tree in Flower". This is from a museum installation by Jason Freeman of the Georgia Insitute of Technology. At his installation people can read the poem. He writes, "The installation invites a single person at a time to create and perform a musical setting of the poem by simply reading it. A short piece of music is generated in real time by applying digital processing, mixing, and looping to the user's voice.". The results are very unusual! You can view a sample recording here. It is very interesting to see the different ways a simple poem can inspire others.
This blog post has now been included in the Carnival of Education's "The Debate Issue" hosted by Eduwonkette. You can read all sorts of educational blogger's posts that have been formatted by Eduwonkette into an entry that at first looks like the presidential candidates debating policy. What a fun and creative way to present all these diverse blog entries. You can find a reference and link to this post by reading what "Sarah Palin" adds to the debate!