Slice of Life Story -Raw Beauty on a Cheerless Day

Last week I began working with students at Ardeer South Primary School who have begun investigating narrative poetry. Our inquiry  began by sharing poems by Michael Rosen ( Chocolate Cake) and Steven Herrick (First Day At School). We looked closely at the text structures and features of this writing form. 

We began looking closely and poetic elements such as line breaks and white space. In pairs the children tried reconstructing another of Michael Rosen’s poems (from the book, Quick Let's Get Out of Here) I had earlier deconstructed. I told them it was a bit like unscrambling a jigsaw. 

This simple exercise drew attention to the decisions the poet must make when presenting the poem across the page. Lots of talk, and collaboration ensued as these young poets magically restored the poem to a more familiar layout. These switched on writers immediately saw the difference in construction to a traditional narrative layout. They noted the different line lengths and could see how this variety adds to the visual appeal of the poem and affects the rhythm of the reading. This week I will invite the students to look back at their own narrative stories as possible starting points for writing their own narrative poetry. The scaffolding is in place now…

So, as I look out the window of my study at another drab winter’s day my mind is blending narrative poetry with the dishwater dinginess that presently surrounds me. I find myself drawing upon my New York life as the focus for this slice of life. On a winter’s day in that now far away location, something quite special allowed me to experience beauty on a cheerless afternoon. I will never forget the whistler…


Standing at the bus stop
On Vanderbilt Avenue
Icy wind slaps my face
Raging around me
Rampant, raw
Leafless stick trees line the street
Silent and sad on the winter avenue

In a tiny bus shelter
Three women huddle
Like Easter Island statues
Shrinking into their coats

Above the wind and the whoosh of the traffic
I hear whistling, faint at first, yet familiar
Carols of the season
Carried above the jangle of street noise
Let heaven and angels sing

A skinny man
His gaunt face,
Masked in grey whiskers
Leans against a wall of tired graffiti
Whistling cheerfully
Shaming thrushes and nightingales
The huddling women appear unmoved.
They stare into the roadway

Beauty clashes with the raw street
And the melody confronts the icy wind
Rising above the growl of cars and trucks
Rising, rising
Until I hear only the whistler
His joyous carols a chorus for angels, kings and commuters
This lilting air
Soars above the cheerless day
Lifting me out of this drab place

I enter the overdue bus
Determined to thank him.
And I do…


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  2. Alan
    Thanks for sharing about how you process this work with students...could you share some of their poems when they finish? Also, I love the way the poem you shared made me feel as if I could almost hear the whistler's tune-so vivid!

  3. I'll never forget the whistler, either. Thanks for sharing this with us. The description of the whistler is powerful. I'm copying it into my writer's notebook for inspiration.

  4. As I read about the whistler, I thought it was familiar. Have you written a narrative piece featuring this moment before? You have created a wonderful mentor text for the students. The imagery of your words lingered in my mind and I almost had to shiver from the cold, although it is not one bit cold here. Loved this post today!

    1. You're right Elsie, I originally wrote about this experience as a memoir piece. I decided to rework it as a narrative poem. Glad you liked it.

  5. Love the lesson but also love the poem - it drops us into cold and icy winter and lifts us up with song. Great! Thanks for sharing

  6. I remember this too, Alan, & it remains beautiful. I want to tell you that on this sweltering August day in Colorado, I loved having a taste of winter grey from you. If only... Thanks also for the pre-work you described with the students. I'm glad they enjoyed it, & like Amy hope that you'll share what they write. Thank you!


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