by Brett Vogelsinger
An abecedary is an inscription of the letters of the alphabet, often in order, and often used as a practice exercise, so technically every student who has studied the English language has completed an abecedary at some point early on in their education in order to learn the alphabet. In fact, there is even a related word to describe people learning the alphabet: abecedarians. That sounds so much more accomplished than "kindergarteners," does it not?
Gabriel Fried's poem, "Abecedary," is somewhat more challenging. Each word begins with a consecutive letter of the alphabet, yet it makes fantastic, whimsical sense as a series of commands or instructions for debonair elves and mighty newish otters.
Here is the poem:
by Gabriel Fried
The poem looks like it must have been easy to write at first, much like some abstract paintings in a museum may make some visitors feel like, "Well I can do that!" So challenge students to create an abecedary that makes some sense, maybe even as a set of instructions like this poem. In five minutes, they will discover the challenge.
The goal here is not for every student to complete a perfect Abecedary, but rather to grapple in their writer's notebooks with this structure and see how an excellent poet can make a challenge look deceptively simple.
Brett Vogelsinger is a ninth-grade English teacher at Holicong Middle School in Bucks County, PA. He is the faculty adviser for the school literary magazine, Sevenatenine. Besides his annual blogging adventure on this site, he has published work on Nerdy Book Club, The New York Times Learning Network, and Edutopia and you can follow him on Twitter (@theVogelman).