At the end of April, I will begin teaching a poetry course for teachers in my district, and I have decided to ask the teachers to spend a lot of time writing their own poetry. I think understanding our own writing process is essential to becoming a better teacher of writing. We will not focus on form poems in this class – no tips on creating haiku or limericks. Instead, we will study poems and read poets who give advice about their creative processes.
To prepare for the class, I have been reading many different titles, and one of my favorite pieces of advice comes from Ted Kooser, former poet laureate of the United States. Here is a great excerpt from his book The Poetry Home Repair Manual:
A couple of years ago, I happened to be talking to a man about pitching horseshoes. He told me his uncle had been a three-state horseshoe champion for several years running. He said he once asked his uncle how he’d gotten so good at the game, and the uncle said, “Son, you got to pitch a hundred horseshoes a day.” That’s the kind of advice beginning writers should listen to: Keep pitching them horseshoes. We poets serve an art, just as a champion horseshoe pitcher serves his game.
I love this quote because it reminds me that we need to practice to become better at writing. The reason we pitch horseshoes is to become better at pitching horseshoes. The reason we write is to become better at writing. And we need to remember this about teaching writing as well: we need to allow our students the time they need to practice. There is no way to become better at writing without actually sitting down and writing.