Monday, November 29, 2010

The Patience of Dylan Thomas

If any teachers still have the good spirit to share holiday-based literature with their students, I want to hold Dylan Thomas up to whatever dying fragments of holiday light remain in our classrooms.

I used A Child's Christmas in Wales earlier in the year as an example of a few connected lessons in my creative writing classes: memoir, someone goes on a journey, and ...patience in story telling.

As I am trying to make myself better and improve my classes, I read a lot of advice for writers.  A fair share always leads the writer back to the question, "And then what?"  When developing an outline or hammering out a scene, I get the point of asking, "And then what?"  Yet, it strikes me as advice dangerously suited for a 12-14 year old students can be impatient in many ways and the way our world works certainly caters to these young impatient minds.  If all I gave them was the writing tip "And then what?" I think I'd end up with a pile of stories which themselves are a pile of...well, "And then what" events.

Our students need to know that there is nothing wrong with patience in story telling.  In fact, it is an art.  When I think of patience in story telling I think of author Kazuo Ishiguro.  Both The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go are fine examples of patience in ink.  I can't imagine many of my 8th grade students attempting either novel, or even gaining anything of my trying to force feed them a few pages just so I can make my point about patience.

I did, however, demonstrate patience to the middle school reader and writer through Dylan Thomas.  I pulled from the Internet a series of images which seemed to match up to several moments in the prose poem A Child's Christmas in Wales:
…and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves…
  Our snow was not only shaken from white wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground…
…some grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely ivied the walls and settled on the postman…
After projecting the images I selected onto the screen, I had the class share their thoughts about why they think I selected those images.  And then I asked them, for homework, to choose their own piece of A Child's Christmas in Wales and find an image to match it, or draw one yourself.

The discussions we had all came back to (my) point of patience as a writer.  We don't have to overwrite something to lengthen it out, or to deliver great detail and understanding to the reader.  We have all of the tools around us.  Take the patience to choose the best word, the best image, the best moment...take the time to show us, tell us, and bring it to life.

True, all stories move along by answering "what happens next" but young writers have to learn that that can not be at the expense of what is happening now.

We spent two full class periods sharing our images and artwork inspired by the Thomas prose poem.  And then we spent the better half of the next day simply reading it and speaking freely about it.  We don't always have the luxury to spend that kind of time on one piece, but as the holidays come thundering towards us, and we pump holiday movies, music, and cookies into our students, consider introducing them to Dylan Thomas as well. 

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