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23rd June 2016

Listen As A Poem Approaches, Engulfs Us: Teaching The Poetry Object At Churchlands Primary, WA

By Scott-Patrick Mitchell

When I was a kid, I loved – and still love – writing poetry because of the sensation it caused. It was like…all of sudden you had tapped into the universal energy and electricity was streaming down from some giant ethereal computer somewhere. For the moment of the poem, of writing it, I felt almost possessed. Not in a negative way. In a very very positive way. As though the words streaming into me were from some higher being and what was being written was a gift. A gift from some magnificent beyond.

I still feel like this, but of course life & further you travel through it affects and effects that frequency in new ways. Death in particular has been a huge influence: that has opened up new frequencies. But the frequency is still there, will always be there, as long as I listen and write.

It reminds me of a story Elizabeth Gilbert tells in a TED talk called Your Elusive Creative Genius. She mentions famous American poetess Ruth Stone who grew up in rural America and she would hear, from across the horizon, the sound of a poem approaching. In this moment Stone knew that she had two choices: she could run and get a pen and write down the sound as it arrived or she could let it pass through her and find somebody else. This gave me chills: this is exactly how poetry occurs, still to this date, for me.

I know, I know…it sounds very esoteric. It sounds a dash crazy. It sounds unquantifiable, unscientific. And it is. Insitinct always is. It just is. You can either choose to listen to it or ignore it. But just as we always know when somebody unseen is watching us, how crazy an extension of logic is that yes, there might be the capacity to commune with the inner self and the outer realms in a way that transmutes language into a semblance of magic. And what is poetry if not a semblance of magic. Poets, in my mind, are those who choose to listen to the universe not with their ears but the back of their necks. After all, this is where the hair stands up in warning, on the nape. Poets are transcribers of the nape’s ability to communicate. And more often than not for me, this is where I feel a poem begin: on the nape. It then trickles up to explode across the brain.

Children, in my mind, hear this presumed frequency with ease. They understand that the mind is capable of great imaginings. They are happy to make believe, to pretend, to slip into this frequency and let it yield within them great adventures. This is largely why I love teaching kids poetry and why I believe that the Poetry Object workshops by Red Room are so effective. After all, what better way to channel and focus this presumed frequency then through a talismanic object, a symbol of personal magic, something to direct attention, to magnify it. Something to assist in capturing it.

I guess the main reason I am discussing this is because one of the children at the recent Poetry Object workshop held at Churchlands Primary School kinda confirmed this thinking for me. He had been sick but had adamantly come in. Why? Because, as he told me, “poetry makes my brain feel alive”. In my mind, this young boy had the capacity to feel this presumed frequency. And as the workshop progressed, and the parameters of the exercises became more complex, his poetry garnered a voice that was something truly spellbinding to behold.

And he wasn’t the only one. I saw it occur in young minds throughout the course of the day.

The most telling and transformative exercise was the application of the cut-up method. It’s funny to think that a writer so influential yet notorious as Burroughs would provide a method that, for young minds, has the most transmutive ability. If you ever have the chance to teach children poetry, please apply the cut-up method at some point. What occurs is incredible to behold as the young minds take already brilliant poems and imbue them with new directions, new meanings, new nuances. Trust me, this method works miracles on language.

And it reminded me of what a student at UWA – where I hold regular poetry workshops – said the previous day when I roadtested the Poetry Object workshop. They said that they never felt a poem was properly written until they had cut it up and rearranged it. After all, the said, how else am I meant to find new sounds if I don’t…and poetry is all about new sounds.

I guess if I were to relate the application of this method back to previously discussed frequency, it’s about challenging what we feel and hear not to transcribe itself in a literal, comprehensible manner, but more in a sparking arc of new sounds that is more akin to what the frequency sounds like. After all, the further we travel through life, the more sense and logic we attempt to apply to the world around us. But if we take the chance to feel, and then challenge what we feel to take new shapes, the result can only be closer to the purity and excitement that poetry is capable of.

As for the school children I had the pleasure of teaching? Well, they - just like you...yes, you, the school aged child bursting with verse reading this right now - still have the opportunity to submit their poetry to the Poetry Object, judged this year by the spectacular Jill Jones, who has been an editor of mine and whom I had the pleasure of interviewing live once for Emerging Writers Festival. She's gold, but not as gold as the poems that are bound to be entered into the Poetry Object...so go, submit now. For the rest of us, those too old to enter? Let's just wait for the poems as gift from some magnificent beyond that are on their way to us.

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Scott-Patrick Mitchell is a poet engaged for Red Room Creative Learning.

His poetry has been described by Bold Monkey’s George Anderson ‘as one of the most diverse and original emerging poets working in Western Australia today’ whose poetry John Kinsella has called ‘new ahead of the new’. His latest collection – the rutting season – was released through Mulla Mulla Press in 2012, with The West Australian describing it as poetry that ‘endlessly inventive and brilliantly evocative’... read more »

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To find out more:

The Red Room Poetry Object »
Red Room Poetry Object is a poetry writing competition inviting young writers and their teachers from across Australia and New Zealand to submit poems about 'talismanic' objects that are special to them. Red Room Poetry Object is open to students in grades 3-10 and their teachers. In 2015, Red Room Poetry Object linked over 160 school communities and published 2560 student and teacher poems.