by Brett Vogelsinger
We read the poem "Little Citizen, Little Survivor" by Hayden Carruth about a rat living in a woodpile, observed by a man starved of the natural environment he knew well as a boy. The only direction I give is "You now have three minutes to sketch this poem in your Writer's Notebooks. I will do the same in mine. Your time begins now."
Part of the fun of this challenge is its impossibility. There is too much to possibly sketch in three minutes, so each reader must decide where to focus, what images are at the crux of this poem. Moreover, they assume a certain perspective from which to view the poem. Sometimes I see a long view of the house with the woodpile; the rat is too small to be seen. Others sketch the rat's tiny nose from bird's-eye view as it peeks out from the woodpile. Some ignore the woodpile altogether. I once had a student sketch a bird feeder, zooming in on the detail that this speaker craves interaction with nature.
Sharing these sketches give us a natural entry point to identify what stands out to us in the poem and why, how we visualize as readers, and what matters most in this piece. I encourage you to enter this activity without too many scripted questions, but rather watch as the kids interpret visually and then explain their thinking. Questions and ideas emerge organically from these drawings.
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.