“Poetry can be dangerous, especially beautiful poetry, because it gives the illusion of having had the experience without actually going through it.”
National Poetry Month has me in a blogging frenzy. I promised my students that I would highlight their work in April and I am determined to make well on my word. My creative writing class is a full year course. Semester one is compromised of fiction and the second semester we focus on poetry. However, as many writers will confess, there is often a blurry line between genres. One never knows when a poem may interrupt a story line or character development and vice-versa.
Since I have so many students that take creative writing every year, I try to switch things up so they are not completing the same assignment over and over. A couple of years ago we had a creative and talented writer, Matt Maki, volunteer at our school as an AmeriCorps worker. Matt orchestrated many poetry activities in our school during National Poetry Month, including having our students read an original poem-a-day over the daily announcements and he set-up an opportunity for a group of students to read their poems at the Northern Michigan University public radio station. Matt also organized an unforgettable poetry retreat that I featured in a blog post, Nourishing the Joy of Writing, and he assisted in creative writing class by coming up with engaging writing assignments. One of the activities was the reading and writing of flash fiction. The older students still talk about Matt and the impression he made on their writing lives.
This fall when I was coming up with new assignments, I thought I would pull inspiration from the time Matt spent in my classroom. I thought it would be interesting to take flash fiction into the digital sphere to help amplify my students’ writing. The catch was, I wanted them to make their piece only 100 words long.
This is the exact assignment that I gave them:
In flash fiction a writer can whittle down narrative and get to the very heart of the story. Flash fiction attempts to accomplish a complete story in few words, therefore, the language in the piece must become precise and sparse. When we are forced to write within a 100 word frame every word becomes charged with intention and meaning.
By combining flash fiction with the digital genre we can add extra layers of meaning with voice, music, and sound effects.
- Write a story that is EXACTLY 100 words.
- Come up with a title (the title does not count in the 100 word total)
- Turn your story into a digital piece using images that go along with the words.
- Break the sentences of your story into segments that are approximately 10 words.
- Create a visual for each segment. Make sure that the visual contains the story lines (think children’s book).
- Scan the images in to create your Digital Flash Fiction Story using a program like Movie Maker or iMovie and add music and credits.
- Credits to include: Creative Writing, Gwinn High School. The date, your names, and the artist for the music you used.
- Optional: Add a voice-over reading the story.
- Minimum of 11 visuals (one for the title)
If you do not have access to a scanner and computer with the right software, Mrs. Laitinen will scan the photos in and create your Digital Flash Fiction piece. Along with the visuals make sure you give her a CD or audio file of the music you would like for your piece.
The look of bewilderment on my students faces was priceless and they wrote and counted…wrote and counted. However, I am sure you will agree that the end product was worth the sweat and (hopefully not) tears. The resulting tears surely came after as we projected their poems in class. (Yes, to any of my former students who are reading this, Mrs. Laitinen still has the reputation of the teacher who cries…easily and often). It is rumored that many students judge the power of their poetry by my reaction. Students have been overheard in the hallway proclaiming, “Mrs. Laitinen didn’t cry when she read my poem. It must not be very good…”
While the assignment was to create flash fiction. I think that the pieces translate well as prose poems. What better time to publish them, then National Poetry Month. Without anymore more rambling, here are five of my students Digital Prose Poems. If you like what you see, please leave a comment and please share these videos. Every writer knows how valuable feedback is to writers of any age, but especially important to young writers.
The fifth piece was written by Bella. Bella is now a junior and I featured her amazing song-writing skills in a blog post, Our Students’ Brave Voices, when Bella was a freshman. Her piece may not translate to poetry but it is so fantastic that I have to share it. I think it embodies Bella’s unique and quirky personality. I love it and it makes me laugh every time that I watch it. If only we could all have Bella’s sense of style and uniqueness.
I want to extend a thank you to Matt Maki for the gift of giving me new ways to look at writing and helping encourage past, present, and future students in my classroom. (In a future blog post I will be sharing the pieces that gathered my students awards at the regional level for the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. One student, Tyler Yelle, received a Gold Key for his flash fiction piece.) Thank you also to the reader and viewer who is experiencing the poems that my students courageously agreed to enter into the digital realm. Please, if you were moved by their work like I am on a daily basis, consider commenting and sharing with your friends, family, and students. Stay tuned for more student work and my ideas to help stimulate poetry in the classroom.