by Brett Vogelsinger
As teachers of poetry, we have likely all spoken about the value of each word in a poem. It is no hyperbole to say that each word in a poem carries more weight than each word in an essay, short story, or novel. But to make this fact have a bit more impact, and in the spirit of Keri Smith's wildly successful creative journal series, it can be fun to experiment with "wrecking" a poem.
Anne Porter's Poem "Wild Geese Alighting on a Lake" is a poem that students can easily identify as tranquil in its mood. I challenge students to wreck the poem in their Writer's Notebooks by drastically altering its mood. They must do this by changing only five words.
Fair warning: if you try this in class, a fair amount of students will kill off those geese. Nonetheless, the outcomes are remarkable. A poem that is nearly the same can be so, so, incredibly different when the writer (student) alters just five of the writer's (poet's) words. Your class is guaranteed a few laughs along the way, and we can only hope that Anne Porter would forgive and maybe even applaud the kids' irreverent ingenuity.
An interesting extension might include a discussion of the connotations of those five changed words, for it is the associations of the individual words that help to craft the mood in a poem.
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.
Living Things: Collected Poems by Anne Porter