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Poetry du Jour Blog

11 June 2017

Writing Poetry with Children on the Sonoma Coast

The White Horse, the Rainbow, and the Artichoke

Here at Cafe Aquatica in Jenner on the Sonoma Coast, it's 12:30, and I'm all set up with a coffee, two scones, and the wind, which is proving to be a real problem today.

There are whitecaps on Jenner Estuary, and Penny Island is flickering in strong and friendly sun. The Bossa Nova Trio is playing out on the deck across from me, and there are a scattering of customers on lawn chairs with coffee, pastries and lunch.

So, so windy, that my sign, hat, and coffee are toppling. Paper in my Smith Corona is flapping so wildly that I have to hold it back with one hand and one-finger type with my other.

Everyone is wearing either down vests, hoodies, or both, like me.

I have three visitors to the table today.

The first group, a party of four women from the South Bay, snugly dressed, watch me set up—lugging my table, paper basket, sign, and chairs across the lawn, where I unfold everything right in front of them.

Polish-English speakers, they are curious watching me unpack the typewriter, spread the table cloth, attach spring clips to the a-frame holding up my sign, azaleas in the clips. One of my papers from the sign blows off in their direction, so one of them snags it before it blows across the tower of bells into the culvert.

The second group is a family of four: a mom and dad with a very small toddler, and her older sister, about four years old. I'll tell you about them in a minute.

At the end of the day, the third group, a party of six friends, are on their way home to Berkeley. They were at a wedding for their friends in Pt. Arena. They were fun to collaborate with, as most everyone had something to add to the poem about the wedding couple. Their friends were married beneath an orange-and-green stained glass decoration which the bride had made.

Today's poem is for the four-year-old little girl, whom I'll call Jenny. So shy! Her mom brings her over to the chair, sits her on her lap. Jenny has light brown hair to her shoulders, blue eyes, and a finger that, for some reason, keeps migrating toward her mouth.

It's a simple poem, I tell mom: three stanzas. The first stanza is a "Once I was" stanza, the second is a "Now I am" stanza, and the third stanza is about the future: "Soon I will be." The first stanza begins with "Once I was," the second begins with "Now I am," and the third stanza begins with "Soon I will be."

I ask Jenny "If you could have been something before you were born, what would that be?" She turns her head to her momma's shoulder and the mom whispers the question. Mom asks again. I ask Jenny what kinds of animals she likes, and the word "horse" trots from her lips. "Pegasus," she says. I'm thinking generic, so we decide to call the horse a "flying horse."

What is the horse doing?" I ask Jenny. Mom kisses her daughter and we discover that the horse is flying. "Where's the horse flying?" I ask. "Over the snow," she says. "Across a rainbow." Tots love images of horses and rainbows, so our poem begins to unfold. First stanza finished.

For the second stanza, I ask Jenny, "What are you now? It could be an action or a thing. She's flying again, this time across a rainbow, between tunnels. "What kinds of sounds do you make when you are flying?" This is a tough one for a tot, so I help out with the sound of happiness.

In the final stanza, I ask Jenny, "What will you be in the future." She's focused on the white horse and rainbows today, so I lean towards her and I notice that on the middle of her cheek there is a child's tattoo of an artichoke. A little observation and we're on our way. Her little sister toddles over to us to see what is happening with the white horse, the rainbow and the artichoke.

"Give me about five minutes," I tell mom, and she lifts Jenny in her arm and goes to sit a few feet away with her husband and the baby.

Clack. Clack. Clack. The poem's done. We read it together and mom is pleased. Dad hands me a gratuity and we exchange thanks for the experience.

I like writing poems with the little ones the best for the surprises that they bring us and for their wide-open imaginations. So refreshing.

The wind carries us away; we soar off together.

Here's Jenny's poem.


Once I was a white
flying horse
soaring over
the snow with
my sister Sarah,
across a rainbow
and burrows
of small animals.

Now I am
flying across
a rainbow,
across a tunnel
between rainbows,
making sounds
of happiness.

Soon I will be
singing hello to
all the other
with an artichoke
on my cheek.

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