by Brett Vogelsinger
National Poetry Month is a harbinger of warmer weather in many parts of the United States, and most people who experience the bitter extremes of a frigid winter are ready to bid that weather farewell. Reading the poem "Night Below Zero" by Kenneth Rexroth might seem counterintuitive.
The poem beautifully captures the way "the cold lies, crystalline and silent" in the dead of winter, which can introduce an intriguing challenge for your students. Can they craft a short, sharp poem like this one that captures the awakening of new life with the first warmth of spring?
When the first beautiful weather strikes in Pennsylvania, I share with my students the line from Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem, "Spring": "when weeds in wheels spring long and lovely and lush." How amazing is the rhythm and alliteration in that line! But I digress.
Why not take the poem's title in today's poem, "Night Below Zero" and change it to something in the same concise structure that captures a key element of spring in your community: "Sunrise Before Alarm Clock" or "Buds Upon Trees" or "Sunshine On Shoulders" (not quite the John Denver song title, but close). This copy-change technique can be used to help coach students with mentor texts in all sorts of genres.
The same way Kenneth Rexroth uses the action of skiing in the darkness to take the pulse of a season, challenge your students to quick write for five minutes in their notebooks to their title, perhaps just focusing on one key moment or activity that characterizes springtime. Pencils moving for five minutes will result in a draft; there is always time to go back and revise later, and perhaps you will even choose to grow this seed writing into a lesson on revision.
Brett Vogelsinger teaches freshman English students at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA where he starts class with a poem each day. Follow his work on Twitter @theVogelman.