Kickstarting Poetic Vibes

Editor’s Note: On June 22nd 2010 the poets of No Choice but to Follow gave a reading at Punahou School after which each poet led a workshop for different aged students ranging from those about to enter the sixth grade to those going into the twelfth grade. Linked poetry was described as “PoetryTag,” because students were encouraged to lock onto someone else’s poem to write their own. Each poet followed her own plan and process. This is Christy Passion‘s experience.

Admittedly, I am not a teacher (so please disregard grammatical errors if they arise), however, I do consider myself a student of poetry and can empathize with the student who is given the task of on-the-spot creativity with something seemingly archaic such as the poem.

Yet poetry is not archaic, it is alive and well and I believe those teaching poetry must first dispel that myth as well as a couple of others that will then set your students free.

Age group:
The advice given is for those of high school age and up.

Myth one: Poetry = Shakespeare
I started off by handing out the poem “Shahid Reads His Own Palm” by Reginald Dwayne Betts. I asked the students to read it then a quick discussion about the content. This poem, beautifully written and breathtaking, is akin to a rap song in its scope. It’s about violence, playing ball in the state pen, stolen cars and drinking whiskey. This will start discussions about what poetry is about- not only romance and heartbreak- but the lives of everyday people just like us

Myth two: Poetry = Rhyme
Discuss rap music here: make poetry relevant to your students. Artists Eminem, Snoop Dog, and Jay Z all use metered rhyme, metaphor, and alliteration in their work. Rap is poetry. If you have the time, the Deaf Jam poetry movement and local artists like Kealoha (whose work can be found on U-Tube for recorded performance and in Bamboo Ridge for his written work) will reinforce not only the modern approach but the local approach to what may seem foreign. Contrast to the poem above (by R. Betts). Poetry does not have to rhyme. What are the similarities? The overwhelming tie between all poetry (for me) is that it carries emotional weight. It makes you feel something in a condensed amount of space. The works of the artists I mention here all have provocative and soul baring work, which is why it’s so good.

Myth three: Poetry = Truth
While poetry is often about self-expression, it rarely is “100% truth”. Discuss the term poetic license. The poem could be only 10% truth, the rest- tools to make the poem alive. Only the poet knows. Give your students the cloak of anonymity and the instruction that “poets do not tell”. This will free them to write about things that they may be afraid, ashamed or compelled to write about. That’s the good stuff. No names- just the instruction- “make me believe your work” Discuss a little about imagery and concrete details which will discern poetry from prose. Make me see, smell and feel what you are putting to the paper so I believe it.

I gave them the line- I am from- to start their poems and 10–15 minutes of free write. I am from incidentally is from the poem that I had given them that day by author R. Betts. You could easily substitute any other line to get things rolling as this line may be a bit overdone. Another line to start may be “ I will die on a Tuesday” or “Near evening, in Central Oahu” or “Opening in the night”. Open any book of poetry and you will find captivating open-ended lines to start with.

I threw out ideas so they could get into it like “I am from a lychee tree guarded by a hunched stingy old Chinese man, I am from a lineage of strong Hawaiian women who dry aku on blue screens hanging from the mango tree, I am from KPT where the stairwells smell like piss. This is free write, whatever comes into the mind goes onto the paper. Encourage your students to not edit, to not over think this.

The Results: a discussion
Here is some of the amazing stuff that came out of our one hour together. I have grouped them into poetic device. Mind you this is a first write and none of these students have been (to my knowledge) educated on any of the poetic devices that have been found in their work. Our quest to communicate in a poetic sense, I believe, is something innate. A good writer falls in love with that and hones his/her work. I instructed them NOT TO RHYME. Rhyming is complex and in the world of poetry a bit archaic. It often stifles the beginner as well and leads to cliché writing.

Here are some examples. I fixed the spelling errors and altered the line breaks in some, but the content and words are all theirs-

Concrete Imagery/Close Observation = Emotional Punch

I come from the red lines tattooed
in glassy stoned eyes that stare back
from this reflective surface

I come from a place where people argue about land
and neighbors who beat their wives
where the old Hawaiian man walks down the road
shirtless, playing his ukulele
dubee in his mouth billowing gray smoke

I come from the housing where you gotta
watch your back like your life depended on it.
Everyday I walk through Kapalama
seeing all these Micros act like gangsters
I come from the area where cops
pile up the road all because
some dumb guy had to break a car window

I come from a place where roaches
have sex on my cup

I come from a place where everything’s silent
no kids on the playground, everything quiet


I come from a tree, picked when I’m well looked
white, small portions of me are pink, nicely well-bloomed

We the people are all moving shades of brown
who live under the same ceiling of a house that will never expand

I come from a mother’s heart filled
with the warmth of homemade cooking

I am but a mime in an empty theater
Who knows what scene, what play is next?

Use of Contrast

I come from Manoa where the grass is always shimmering green
and the clouds are thundering with anger

I come from a place where there are sunny sidewalks
but a cop around every corner

I come from a very large Hawaiian family, bold and strong
sleeping all day, scrapping all night

Where the roofs are made of rhinestone
and the houses have elevators.
I come from a place where the homeless wander through the night

There will be further examples of personification, use of repetition and allusion that could also be discussed (but for space I hold back here). You will also come across clichés and ideas of Hawaii that are mainland oriented- discuss that here. While Hawaii does have swaying palm trees and white sand beaches, whose perspective is that? In what literature will you find that type of description? Look at local literature- anything by Bamboo Ridge as well as the countless other local authors who can be found in the bookstore- how often are palm trees and white sand beaches used as imagery? Why or why not? If the imagery is used, when was the piece written? How does time affect our image? Our language?


Born and raised on the island of O’ahu, CHRISTY PASSION has, in recent years, been drawn to both poetry and short story writing. Her work has been published in local venues such as Bamboo Ridge, Hawaiʻi Pacific Review, and the anthology Honolulu Stories. Her poetry has won both local and national awards, including the James Vaughn Award, The Atlanta Review International Merit Award, and the Academy of American Poetry Award.

Talk story

  1. says:

    Poetry Reading
    Kapiolani Community College Library
    Wednesday, November 17th, 2010
    12:30pm – 1:30pm

    Mahalo Christy for taking the time from your busy schedule to share with us your method/style of writing poetry and short stories. Providing tips to the audience to write poetry in their own voice and not to include any explanation to it. In addition, reading one of your renshi (linked poetry) poems and informing us the process of creating it. The attendance of the poetry reading was a great success!

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