Thursday, March 27, 2014


Oftentimes poetry is designated as something serious, weighty, lofty, even inaccessible. Especially in schools. Poetry is saddled with these very somber labels, and the very idea of writing or reading it is linked with apprehension or distress. Students often think that poetry can only deal with subjects of the utmost gravity and sobriety. 

This is exactly why I try to emphasize play when I teach poetry. Poetry can be fun, and funny. It's a celebration of language, not just a lament of all the terrible things in the world. 

Earlier this year we did the Dr. Seuss challenge as a type of poetic play, and last week we tried something else. I had students write what they considered to be good names/titles for a restaurant, a band, and a children's movie. They then had to choose one name/title and write a poem about the menu, the music, or write the lyrics to the movie's opening song. It was lighthearted and fun, and it served as a reminder of how much one can play with words and ideas. 

Below is one of my poems about a restaurant named "Burnt."

A picture from the Burnt Food Museum.
Yes, that's a thing. 

Welcome sir and welcome ma'am
Have a seat; we don’t make you stand.
Today we have a choice of meat,
Truly, both of you, take a seat.

Let me start you with some wine,
Perhaps a Riesling from the Rhine.
Here’s the list of dining choices;
Take your time; just use your voices.

Yes, I see that you've decided
From the menu that I provided.
A porterhouse for you sir, and for you?
Chicken with asparagus, that will do.

Now you’ll probably want to add a salad
Or perhaps a side, my advice is valid,
Because your meat will be burnt
...To a crisp, I wish it weren't.

But, you see, that’s what we do
You order food, we burn it through.
So, about that salad, if I am true,
Know we burn the lettuce, carrots, and tomatoes too

And just so we are all very clear
There’s next to nothing to eat here.
We burn the water and the ice;
We burn the butter once we've burned the rice.

We burn the bread and the spinach dips
We burn the fish and the all the chips.
We burn the pasta and the soup;
We burn the game hen before it’s left the coop.

We burn your napkins and your check;
You still have to pay or we burn your neck.
We burnt your car and your parking pass;
We burnt your chair, and we’re burning your...socks.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Cordial Invitation

There are two big upcoming events for the CCSWP, and I would like to extend an invitation to each and every one of you .

  • April 11th, 7pm-9pm. $25/person includes pint glass and unlimited samples. 
  • Please join us for our second-annual fundraiser at Back East Brewing. This is a chance to meet new people, try some great food and beverages, and learn more about our parent organization, the CCWP. We will also have plenty of information about the CCSWP there as well. Last year was a huge success, and we hope that this year will be even better. 
Event #2: Literacy Essentials Conference at Central Connecticut State University
  • April 12th, 8am-3pm. Registration fees vary. 
  • This year's conference features keynote speakers Ernest Morrell and Timothy Rasinski. CCSWP Director Nick Chanese is also presenting a session called "Purpose-First Writing." This conference has continued to grow year after year

I hope you're able to join us at one or both of these conferences. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Weekly Student Writing Sample

This week's sample comes from Meredith W. and can be found in the 2013 CCSWP Anthology.

"Watercycle of the mind‍‍‍‍"

There is a world where your mind is the earth
And each water drop is a single thought
And the clouds floating all around you
Are ideas and ‍‍‍input‍ ‍‍from the rest from the world.

The ground is instinct.
Those rocks, dirt and sand are all you're born with -
No self consciousness, no purpose in life,
No thoughts, or dreams just breath, heartbeat and hungry tears.

But more comes with your earth:
Chemicals, elements, minerals;
And when they're used together
Each a part of a creature, a part of this world.

Plants and animals are all ideas:
As each develops, there can be another -
A food chain of connecting thoughts -
But they don't grow off dirt - they need something more.

Water. And water it rained
Shortly after your birth,
It poured like clear melted diamonds.
The words of your parents and sights of your home -
The first clouds blew into your atmosphere,

And ever since then clouds came -
Some coming right in with angry hail, or sad snow,
Some just emotionless and yet so important -
They rained all their drops right into your head,
And they flooded your dirty-dusted canyons with ease.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Piece for Peace

One morning this past week, a few of my students had a rough start to their school day. It was what my fellow teacher Elke calls a "bad air day." One of those days when there's just that feel in the building: a mix of frustration, exhaustion, and distraction. Bad air.

The students in questions were friends, had been friends all year. But this morning they entered yelling at one another. More accurately, one was yelling at the other, and the silent one was trying to contain himself from firing back. They settled in their seats and stopped, but the tension was heavy. I had my eye on them both.

We started class as we always do, with a free-write. After ten minutes or so, I allow time for sharing, and the first volunteer was a mutual friend of the two feuding students. He shared this piece:

Don't fight, sweet ocelots;
An Ocelot - Courtesy the Internet Archive
don't throw your friendship away;
don't sweat the little things,
and don't scream at your friends.

Do listen to each other;
do take the time to think;
do tell your friends to love them,
oh, you silly ocelots.

J and Mr. S.C.,
the closest two ocelots can be;
don't go for each other's throats;
that's advice from me.

While he read, I saw the faintest smile on the silent one's face. In the matter of a minute, the tension was gone. By the end of class, all was forgotten, and by the end of the day, the two friends who began the day in contention, left the building laughing together.

Sometimes we just need the time to write to get our thoughts in order and put things in perspective. Sometimes we just need to listen to others who will do that for us.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Announcing CCSWP New Britain

We are happy to announce that we will be offering a second CCSWP site in New Britain, CT this summer! CCSWP New Britain will take place at Chamberlain Elementary School from July 7th - July 18th. This will be a creative writing institute only.
We are very excited to be back in New Britain!

You can register for CCSWP New Britain online or print and mail the below form.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Weekly Student Writing Sample

Please enjoy this week's writing sample from Carly C. A CCSWP East Hartford graduate.

He leans his body into a squiggled column and reclines, yawning and itching at nothing. I’ve had charge of Daddy since birth. I know what it is to pull up a weed.

“I’m getting your pills,” I say, walking too quickly to allow an objection from those pocked chops. Some funny murmur skims my ears, and I laugh considering what Daddy might’ve said. He’s always got loads to say.

Our kitchen’s got this cold about it, all cabinets and drawers empty but for the pills. It’s a tiny pharmacy I run, open to any and all who’d like a bite. But mostly only if I trust. And mostly only if you pay. Where’s the harm, so long as I make the bills.

I’ve been a man too long to indulge in the kid business, so once that Sophomore clock struck twelve, I’d abandoned that scene eternally. Daddy understood. He was iron back then. He held molten metal in his fists and laughed at the burn. He built cities, goddammit. He taught the glory of it.

As we cut through the heart of the state, he’d gesture out the windows of our rust-bucket Chevy and say, “Lookit that, boy. Daddy made that.”

More than once, more than a thousand times, he peered toward his creation and let it be known:

“Hartford looks the way it looks because an Egger made his move.”

Egger men make their moves. Like a giant’s stride, we leave nothing unchanged.

Popping the lid from the ginger tube, I finger an Oxy or two into the dead of my palm. Daddy’s been taking them dry since ’96 so I don’t bother with a drink.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The CCSWP Schoarship Drive

Today begins an important event for the CCSWP. 

Since we started in 2007, we have always hoped to have the capacity to welcome any young writer into our summer program regardless of their ability to afford it. We have never run at a profit; all of our tuition funds pay for program infrastructure. Luckily, the New Britain School district has sponsored 10 student scholarships over the past few years, but the CCSWP itself has never had the ability to offer scholarships to students. 

We are seeking to change that with our Indiegogo fundraising campaign. For the next 60 days, we are looking to raise enough money to sponsor three scholarships for deserving writers. We are flooded each year with emails asking for scholarship opportunities, and thus far I've always had to answer these emails with apologies. 

If you are able to contribute anything, we would appreciate it. 100% of funds go to student scholarships. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions about the fundraiser. Please spread the word so that we can raise as much as possible. 

Thank you all. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Dr. Seuss Challenge

I started a poetry workshop this week in my Creative Writing class and decided to combine the start of the unit with recognition of Dr. Seuss' birthday. To begin writing poetry, I reminded my students that, for many of them, their first exposure to poetry was through Dr. Seuss. With that in mind, we started our poetry unit with the Dr. Seuss challenge.

If you don't know the story, The Cat in the Hat was written using a vocabulary list for young readers. Dr. Seuss thought early reader books like Dick and Jane were boring, so he decided to address that problem by writing something simple to read yet engaging to young readers (and to the parents that read to them).

I challenged my students to write a poem using a word list for 2-4 graders. They had to use as many words as possible, but the poem had the freedom to be as wild and weird as they desired. In the end, the poems were as varied as you'd expect (one of my favorites noting the typo on the 3rd grade word list; it was about the land of Oot). I ended up getting more into it than I expected, and I wanted to share my piece.

"Everyone Heard Nothing"

I ran through the snow just as fast as I can’t.
And everyone saw me, even ten ants.
I ran to the sea so I that I couldn't see
Nothing across everything that wasn't me.

I had an old pair of animal dreams,
But I passed them instead outside just between
A paper and brother above the good street,
In the great city that loves lots of feet.

I’d hold a job as a teacher and teach all the fish
About money and hand holds, that is my wish.
Below the clean winter I love to work,
And help all the anythings that together I took.

It’s true I long listen to lives that are lived,
But few fell free from the fire that baby done did.
I catch cat children and carry them off
To a land left life-less by the list of the lost.

Among them one asked me what he has became,
An idea inside him that knew not a name.
You are a house, now hide up a hill!
I say to the home that can’t jump and can’t kill.

My past plan at the park saved me real rest
Save for the room the boat body buys best.
Being a circle adds air all along;
Check on the class that died dark in cold song.

Watch me wall walk and wait for a week.
View me under the top; write of your first peek.
Dad does dark dinner down with the dog
Throw on those thinks; draw an early log.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Weekly Student Writing Sample

This week's sample comes from Katherine G. The selection comes from an exercise where we ask students to write about a picture but without appealing to a particular sense. In this case, Katherine had to write about this garden scene without appealing to the sense of smell. Read it to the end; you'll appreciate the last line. 

Grass weaves between my toes, beneath my bare feet. I reach out to touch the delicate petals of a small flower, soft like a tissue. My fingers move down the plant's stem until a jolt of screaming pain rushes through my thumb. I've been stabbed, brutally wounded by a hidden thorn. A raised bubble of blood rises from my fingertip. I suck my thumb, trying to make the pain go away. I sit on the dewy ground, marvelling at the beauty and danger of the garden. The silvery backs of leaves on the trees blow in the slight spring wind. Everything is warmed and rejuvinated by the warm, bright sunlight, down to its core. Clouds dance lazily across a cornflower sky. I can practically feel the pollen drifting through the air, a yellow-tinged breeze. I know this moment is a moment given, to think about everything and nothing at the same time. To let my insides warm as the sun rises through the sky. To smile in spite of myself at the natural beauty of everything around me. It's times like these when I really regret losing my sense of smell in that freak Segway accident three years ago.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Just a Pencil

The other day, I asked my creative writing students to write the name of an everyday item on an index card. Beneath that, I asked them to write the first seven words that they associated with that word. The students then folded their cards and traded, now tasked with writing about that everyday object without naming it nor using any of the seven words below it. Basically, we played an impromptu game of Taboo.

The goal of the exercise is to remember that describing the same old things in the same old ways produces the same old results. Sometimes a new perspective is necessary to give both the object and the writing new life.

This is my favorite piece from the exercise. It's by Jared P. who had to write about a simple pencil.

The genesis, the apocalypse. These divine concepts are left behind as mere etchings from infinite creations and possibilities. It acts as a vessel for infinity, yet it wears down and eventually dies. Once replaced, however, the depth of creativity given is rivaled by the gods.