04 May 2007

Learning from the rascals

My week with the 10- to 12-year-olds from Burton and Lucerne schools has come to an end. It was exhausting! But a great experience. The kids camped out at the Silverton Gallery and I showed up each day and we worked together as a big group (40 kids!) and in smaller groups. Poetry, fiction, personal writing.

There was something very liberating about working with kids that age: they weren't suspicious of me and my writing methods like older kids can be. And I could say stuff to them, in a wide-eyed tone, like "OK, imagine that an emotion comes to your front door and knocks, but nobody's home...."

At that age, there's some very good writing, but the thing isn't to produce good writing, but to break the imagination free. To get them excited about poetry, about writing; to let them know that they are capable of producing sentences and phrases that will entertain and interest other kids, and maybe even adults.

But they're also pretty rambunctious at that age: especially the boys. I can't believe what full-time teachers must go through day after day. The amount of time spent maintaining and restoring order, negotiating, and futilely reasoning is incredible: but once they get writing, there is so much excitement, and sometimes silent, absorbed excitement.

So I spent a week with these Kootenays pre-teens and became very fond of them — even the trouble-makers, who often surprised with some great lines — and now I move on to another group. It's a strange thing to parachute into their lives and then to suddenly leave. I want to know how the story proceeds: which ones keep writing? what do they write? what do they read? what do they wonder? will they ever write another cento?

But, man, they were so fired up by the end: they pleaded to do another cut-up, another collaboration, another. They were determined to make their own zines and their own books.

Overall, I was very pleased with how things went. I had to keep making snap decisions and veering away from my plans. On the fly, I can now come up with new writing projects that I hope will tap into wherever the kids' minds are roosting.

Now I have a couple days off before I start my residency with the high school kids.

Yesterday I took an afternoon trip to Kaslo, a very cool town about half an hour from New Denver. Great health-food store, some good restaurants, nice lakefront areas. No bookstore, unfortunately. Just a little paperback exchange in the back of the laundromat would've been nice. But the best part was the drive there, along windy roads and precipices, through the mountains. It's pretty exhilirating. And sometimes scarey.

The nights in the cabin are great, especially since it's been raining (though that might finally have come to an end). I can't believe how early I fall asleep, and how early I wake up. Gotta unplug the fridge to plug in the kettle, or everything'll go kaboom. Shuffling along the little path behind the cabin, over the short footbridge, to the outhouse. Feeling the chill of the mountain air on my face. Having time to read. And the other morning, woke up before 6 a.m. and watched I Am, Unfortunately, Randy Newman, a weird and poignant British TV documentary by Jon Ronson. I loved the incongruity of watching that in a cabin in the woods.

OK, back to some of my own writing.

Over and out.


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