Ode to My Slippers

 

photo-151

 

You sit by the door
Two old Labradors,
Two rabbits hunched in the grass
Waiting
To hop after mama,
Happy to welcome
These foul, wandering feet,
Never complaining
You’re not the ones
To go out.
Circled in fur,
Two open sacks folded back,
Two manes without their lion heads,
Without their thoughts,
Without any idea
Where to go
Without me to say
Time for the kitchen,
Time for the office,
Time for bed.
So little do I think of you,
I’ve worn you
Out the door.
It was the feeling of something wrong
That made me notice
You’d gone too far.
I’ve flattened your fur,
Bored a hole in your toe,
But you never complain.
Happily you swish swish across the floor,
Singing a song
Of someone returned
Home.

 

 

I’ve been preparing to visit a middle school writing/drawing elective. Because some kids are writing and some are drawing, I thought I would bring some odes. My plan is to ask the kids to choose something in the room to draw or write about so they can really examine their chosen subject. I know that when I have my subject directly in front of me I can come up with ideas that would never occur to me if I were simply picturing it in my head. To prepare for my visit I’ve been reading Odes to Common Things by Pablo Neruda and because I’ll be working with kids I’ve also been reading Neighborhood Odes by Gary Soto. I’ve also been inspired by Laura Shovan’s lesson plans for odes.

I love my copy of Neruda’s Odes to Common Things. It has the original poems in Spanish on one side and the English translations by Ken Krabbenhoft on the other. It also has beautiful pencil drawings by Ferris Cook at the top of each page. Even the drawings make interesting pairs—a violin on one page and its case on the opposite, closed scissors on one page and open scissors on the opposite.

Here is the opening of Neruda’s “Ode to a pair of scissors:”

 

Prodigious
scissors
(looking like
birds, or
fish)
you are as polished as a knight’s
shining armor.

Two long and treacherous
knives
crossed and bound together
for all time,
two
tiny rivers
joined:
thus was born a creature for cutting,
a fish that swims among billowing linens,
a bird that flies
through
barbershops.

 

Gary Soto also uses beautiful and surprising imagery in his odes. Here’s the beginning of his “Ode to Los Chicharrones” (fried pork rinds):

 

They are shaped
Like trumpets,
The blow of salt
On your lips
When you raise
One to your mouth.
The music is a crunch
On the back molars,
A hard crunch that
Flushes the ears
And tires the jaw.

 

One thing I hope to discuss with the kids is the language the poets use to describe the objects—how they look, sound, and even taste. I love the images of scissors as fish swimming among billowed linens and of chicharrones as salted trumpets. These images feel new and unfamiliar. One thing we can talk about is how to get past the old and familiar to discover the new.

I also hope we can talk about how odes are about familiar objects and something more. Neruda’s scissors cut fabric and hair, but they also cut happiness, sadness, and poetry. Soto’s chicarrones are so good, ants drop their breadcrumbs in hopes of a salty flake.

I’m looking forward to my visit and to hearing and seeing what the kids come up with.

For more Poetry Friday visit Sheri Doyle.

18 replies
  1. Janet F. says:

    Hi Liz,
    If you have any catalogs and could cut out pictures to have available…..maybe that would help the non-drawers…..and those who can’t think of an image right away. However, that might take too much time in the deciding (for some kids)…And I always figure some classrooms might be so clean/sterile, the kid who wants to make “the perfect choice”, might not be able to think of something. Just a quick thought from an “old” teacher!!! Or print out a page from online images and cut those. If time, glue on index cards…..or just bring in a bunch of catalogs and give a one minute time limit to look through for an idea…….

    Or you could bring in a suitcase with objects….. a la Janet Wong’s idea and set up a tablescape (like an artist would have for a still life) just to get the imagination kick-started. Or ask the teacher ahead of time to do this and have the kids bring in the pictures or stuff to create a box of possibilities without saying what it is for…

    You probably have all these ideas already, but I loved your slippers ode and your post!! I love helping kids discover the possibilities of communicating through poetic meanderings on the way to creating poetry. As an advocate for teaching with poetry throughout the day (ie variety of subject areas) and year, I believe in helping kids get inside poems and poetry in ways that will make them want to continue on their on.

    • lsteinglass says:

      Janet,
      Thank you for the suggestions. There is absolutely no substitute for the wisdom that comes through experience.
      Liz

    • Janet F. says:

      oops! * on their OWN”!!
      I plan to use your poem and ideas in my teaching, too!!! Getting at all the little details is so helpful for kids! I checked out Laura’s info, too, so thanks for the link!

    • Janet F. says:

      oops! * on their OWN, I meant. By the way I plan to use this idea with some of my students this week!!! Also thanks for the link to Laura’s info!!! I hope you will be able share some of the kids’ efforts with us!

  2. Bridget Magee says:

    Again, Liz, you have left me thinking. I love your challenge: “get past the old and familiar to discover the new”. And Soto’s poem about the chicharrones has caused me to never look at a bag of those in the grocery store the same way! Enjoy your school visit – those students are LUCKY to have you presenting this lesson. =)

    • lsteinglass says:

      Soto’s odes are wonderful. I will never look at many things the same after reading them. He describes a sprinkler as a helicopter of water. Isn’t that perfect?

  3. Tara says:

    My sixth graders love odes – we will be writing in response to a few by Neruda in a couple of weeks, and I would love to share yours. My kids have come up with odes to the most extraordinarily ordinary things – bacon and a breakfast bowl of oatmeal, for instance! Such fun.

    • lsteinglass says:

      The ordinariness of the topics is one of the things I love about odes. Neruda has odes to chairs, tables, spoons, and plates, and all of them are wonderful.

  4. Buffy Silverman says:

    Love the concrete images here, especially the animal ones–“two manes without their lion heads” made me laugh. I’m going to copy your post and Janet’s suggestions to steal (er..borrow? inspire?) for my folder of writing activities to try with kids.

  5. Laura Shovan says:

    Hi, Liz. Thanks for the shout out! As soon as I started reading your poem, I thought of the shoe odes. I’ll be doing that again soon with fifth graders. One of the host teachers wrote an ode about her flip-flops last year that she still talks about. Neruda’s odes are just amazing — full of raw, powerful images. These lines made me think of your slippers as the loveys they must be: “I’ve flattened your fur,
    Bored a hole in your toe,
    But you never complain.
    Happily you swish swish across the floor”
    Have a great weekend with lots of slipper-wearing time!

  6. sheri doyle says:

    Sounds like your school visit will be so much for for the students.
    I really enjoyed your ode and these lines especially:
    “Two manes without their lion heads,
    Without their thoughts,
    Without any idea
    Where to go…”
    Thanks, Elizabeth!

Comments are closed.