Articles for Teachers & Students

Hand-Eye Coordination

Ways to teach the art of seeing.

by Judy Rowe Michaels

Harvest moon—
walking around the pond
all night long.

                                            —Matsuo Bashō, translated by Robert Hass

 

A respect for language . . . But sometimes the hand is quicker than the eye. It grabs the pencil and slaps down an adjective before the eye has finished looking. The day is “lovely”: full of “fluttering” leaves and “sparkling” waves; clouds sail by, “cotton-white” and, in short, as Alexander Pope said some two-and-a-half centuries ago in his “Essay on Criticism”:

“Where’er you find ‘the cooling western breeze,’
In the next line, it ‘whispers through the trees,’
If crystal streams ‘with pleasing murmurs creep,’
The reader’s threatened (not in vain) with ‘sleep’;”

We’ve asked our students to write poems that invite us to enter. To ground us in concrete, physical detail. To stop, look, and listen. But in the excitement of the moment—in the flush of inspiration—my leaves are prone to flutter; and “dark” is my all-time favorite adjective. The four other senses get robbed of their rights, too, but we rely more for imagery on sight than on any of the others, so it suffers the most. And it doesn’t help if you keep losing your bifocals.

How can we dramatize for student poets the importance of taking a closer look?

At the end of a course, I ask students to write a journal entry about a class or assignment that they found memorable. Recently, Katherine, a junior in the poetry elective, wrote:

This course has forced me to look at things in a very different way than I have seen them before. One class that stands out in my mind is the one when we read Buson’s haiku ‘On a one-ton temple bell / a luna moth folded in sleep.’ You had us close our eyes, relax our bodies and clear our heads. Then you asked us to picture in detail this image: the textures, temperatures, sizes, colors, sounds, smells. Afterward we shared our own images of Buson’s poem. Then we each got a marble from the box you brought in and wrote down phrases that came to mind as we looked at our marble. I remember feeling like time had stopped during that class. For forty minutes I forgot about everything else in my life, all the stress and anticipation left me. Focusing so clearly on something so insignificant and small pushed me to call on all of my senses. I learned that this is the primary step to writing strong poetry and creating vivid images.

Then you took us into New York. I have been to the city many times, but walking around Manhattan with our poetry class I felt like I was seeing the city for the first time. You gave us little notebooks and told us this was our camera and to take many photographs. For the first time I really opened my eyes and noticed specific people on the street. I observed how they walked, who they walked with, how they dressed. I noticed one woman slumped over in the passenger seat with her feet resting on the dashboard, her window half rolled down, waiting for someone to return to the car. On any other day I would have passed right by her and she would have faded into the blur of all the passing people. That day I noticed the color of the hot dog signs on the vendors’ wagon. I noticed a fern growing on the shaded window sill of a third floor apartment. I paid attention to my other senses too: the stench of urine that reeked in the subway tunnels; the screaming police sirens I heard from Central Park Zoo. My notebook by the end of the afternoon was a collage of images of ordinary life in New York City. But the experience for me was out of the ordinary.

[. . .] I wish I had asked her how she got from the class on Buson and the marbles to learning “that this is the primary step to writing strong poetry and creating vivid images!” Like Katherine, I find this kind of attentiveness “out of the ordinary” and would like it to become more a part of my daily life. I want it for my students, too, especially because I agree with artist Frederick Franck that it’s closely connected to empathy: “When the eye wakes up to see again, it suddenly stops taking anything for granted. The thing I draw, be it left, rosebush, woman or child, is no longer a thing, no longer my ‘object’ over and against which I am the supercilious ‘subject.’ The split is healed. When I am drawing leaf or caterpillar or human face, it is at once de-thingified. I say yes to its existence. By drawing it, I dignify it, I declare it worthy of total attention, as worthy of attention as I am myself, for sheer existence is the awesome mystery and miracle we share.” (1)

Before experimenting with the haiku exercise, which can be a stretch for the more literal-minded student (“Big deal—I see this moth on this bell”), you may want to have your class bring in objects to study—to draw and write about. I usually insist on something organic that they can envision in successive stages of its life. I ask them to set the object on their desk and close their eyes for a minute. “When your eyes are open, imagine you are seeing this object for the first time. In fact, imagine this is the first such object to appear on the earth and you are the first one to see it. Naturally, you’ll look at it very closely, poke it a bit, shake it, sniff it . . .

Now you want to make a record of it. Here is a piece of paper. Take your pencil and, without looking at your paper—not even once, not even a sidelong glance—draw the object in detail. Don’t stop looking at it. The point is not to make a perfect drawing but to get to know your object as fully as possible—every vein and dimple, every speck and abrasion, every shadow and crevice. Think large, as you start to draw, because you’ll be putting in so many details and you won’t be able to see exactly where on the paper you’re putting them. This is a case where to process, not product, is the significant thing.”

Expect a lot of groaning. Eighth and ninth graders tend to be more obsessed with making a “realistic,” accurate drawing than juniors and seniors, who may have been exposed in art class or museum trips to abstract art and the power of distortion to express truth. If you’re drawing your own object—which is a good thing to do—check, especially at the outset, to be sure people aren’t sneaking a look at their paper. The temptation is overwhelming! You can be a good role model; hold up your own art work, laugh at it, but point out the things you discovered about your object that you hadn’t noticed before. As I write this, I’ve been taking a lot of time out to watch the red squirrel on my window ledge. I just caught him in the act of yawning. At least, he stretched and opened his mouth very wide; it sure looked like a yawn.

We tend to see what we want to see. What we’re used to seeing. Last week as I said goodbye to my Men and Women in Lit. group, I asked how many, in the course of the semester we’d spent together, had changed their assumptions about at least one person in the class. Every hand, including mine, went up. But challenging our assumptions had been one of the avowed purposes of that course; it had been a frequent subject for discussion. Whether it’s the opposite sex or squirrels or dry leaves, we instinctively classify and judge as quickly as possible, in order to move on to the next item demanding our attention. Poets and artists can’t afford to do this.

Moving from visual to verbal, I ask the class to start listing words—right on their drawings—that capture as precisely as possible what their senses have been telling them and what they have tried to draw. Sometimes we first make five lists on the board of “sense” words, just to warm up:

touch—gritty  damp  silken  furry  hairy  sticky  squishy  pulpy 
   dusty
sound
—rustle  peep  bubble  whisper  crackle
sight
—oblong  curly  spiked  undulating  minuscule  oval 
   notched  indented  veined  striated
smell
—spicy  earthy  sour  sweet  piney  musty  astringent 
   piercing
taste
—bland  hot  crunchy  grainy  syrupy  mealy  sweet 
   spicy

We note how the senses blur so that one word will often apply to more than one sense. We mention onomatopoeia—crunch, crack, grunt. We puzzle how to describe the taste of a stone, the sound of a piece of bark or of a mushroom. I might read them Sylvia Plath’s poem about mushrooms—the soft “insistent” hands “taking hold of the loam,” whispering their way up through the earth. We agree that finding the right word is very hard work. So is finding a fresh comparison. “Imagine you’re the only person on earth to have seen this object; you want to leave an accurate record for posterity.” (2)

Once we’ve filled our drawings with words, I take the class through a series of questions, expanding from this matter-of-fact study of the object into association, memory, fantasy—different kinds of “seeing,” which, along with their initial observations, should help them write a poem for the next class.

Tell your object some of the things you noticed about it.
List associations you have with your object and its name.
Jot down a memory that your object calls up.
List things you could do with your object.
List some places you would not expect to find your object.
Imagine what it might do in such a place. (Be surprising, outrageous.)
Ask it a few questions or let it ask you some questions.
Offer some answers or answer with another question.
Describe its transformation into something else or some other form of itself.

As they get up to leave, I tell them they don’t have to incorporate all this material into their poem; they can select and develop just a couple of items if they’d rather. Given the range of these directives, their poem has the potential to be a humorous fantasy, a memory poem, a dream poem, a nature poem—but however it turns out, it will be grounded in close observation and some precise language. As a sample, here’s the beginning of my own, as yet uncompleted, poem based on observing and drawing a pair of otters at the Central Park Zoo. I made detailed notes on shape, size, color, and texture, but in the end it was their motions that really stirred my imagination.

One rests his chin on the other’s wet flank,
lovers afloat and fluid with late afternoon,
lovers in their slipping streamy protean
flexes, backslidings, Moebius strips.
Eelslick, seaflip, webfoot, rattail, whiskered
as cats, their love is checkered light, silver dark.
They know each other almost as they know
water. I’d like to ask, “How did you learn
this acqueouscence?”

Next day we are ready to share our drafts. But before students read their poems aloud to the class, I ask everyone to listen particularly for words and phrases that reveal a fully awakened, an unusually attentive eye so that when the poem’s over I can list these on the board for us to think about. Then, to set the tone, I read aloud from John Moffitt’s poem “To Look at Any Thing.” (3)

To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long:
To look at this green and say
‘I have seen spring in these
Woods,’ will not do . . . .

“Don’t assume you’ve really seen any of the objects you’re hearing about in these poems. Be prepared to see them differently. Assume that you’ve never seen the green of spring wood before.”

As we listen to the poems, a record of the students’ “seeing” goes up on the board: a saltine’s eyelet lace, dying banana like a limp, black crescent moon, the white web spun tight around the orange’s flesh, a leaf’s busy perforations, a freckled stone, the saltine orderly as a bingo card, the candle’s syrupy drip, a prune wrinkled as old gums.

This is the point in their writing when some students suddenly start keeping a poetry notebook. So if the weather’s good, take the class on a walk to collect textures, smells, sounds, shapes, colors, and interesting juxtapositions of objects. Who knows which of these may trigger a poem? Or a good line? But even if none do, it’s useful practice in seeing. Students can collect actual objects or capture them in quick sketches and words. You can also assign them to do this at home; basement and attic (though these poetic conveniences are fast disappearing from the scene), kitchen and backyard and garage are all possible sources. So is the local supermarket, especially the fresh produce section, and, if you live in a city, outdoor flower or vegetable stands. One of my colleagues did a class walk with guests from the first grade; his seniors were startled at how much more interesting familiar terrain becomes when you’re seeing it through the eyes of a child. How many more times you have to stop!

Any situation that changes the way you normally perceive your surroundings is apt to be good for your poetry. Falling in love, falling out of love, having a child, starting a new job, travel, acquiring a new skill. Think how many writers got their start when confined to bed during a long childhood illness. A few summers ago I attended a writing workshop in the Pacific Northwest just ten days after I’d had surgery. We were given a daily assignment in “available seeing.” In our notebooks we were to record ordinary sights—a slant of light on a diving bird’s tail, a hair curled in the still-wet shower drain. Not impose our personality on the thing with fancy figurative language or sound effects but just be attentive, in the spirit of Zen, to its “as-is-ness.” Happily, my usual impatience was checked by the fact that I could walk only very slowly, for very short distances. I found myself quite content to sit down on the nearest driftwood log and watch one patch of shore for half an hour. I even became a better reader of haiku.

I show a page from that summer’s journal to my senior writers:

sandal straps limp and lopsided from damp sea air
sour smell of kelp mixed with wild sweet pea
small boy in red clings halfway up the bluff over the beach
hidden dips in smooth sand
sea gull footprints make umbrella shapes in wet sand

I tell them that while I was pleased to find myself paying more attention to my surroundings, I wasn’t convinced at the time that these were useful observations. They seemed so random and their language so matter-of-fact. But a month later, as I read over the page, I began to write a poem about recovering from surgery. To my surprise, four of the five journal entries made their way into the poem:

Each morning I walk a little farther,
listening to my new body ripen
and ache. It makes a green music.
I walk carefully, as if packed full of seeds,
but I am hollow and untried,
like a newly strung guitar.
The ground is my rhythm—
anthill, pebble, pothole, and root
direct my going. Hidden dips in a smooth lawn
assault my body’s tenderness like a stranger’s hand on my arm.

I cry at the deep impress of a seagull’s feet
in wet sand, because it looks like a small umbrella.
I cry when someone says Washington State
has the fourth highest incarcerations rate in the nation,
because I love its coffee and its veils of rain.

I am a cracked egg in boiling water.
My first day here I saw from the car a wild beach,
dark under high bluffs, and I wept
at what I couldn’t smell from the window—
sun on thistle and sweetpea and sour kelp.
Finally today I walked there: the tide was in,
and some ravens, and one small boy in red halfway up the bluff.
I cried—there was such a narrow strip to walk on,
or maybe because I’d gotten the smells right.

One student said, “It seems like your seeing really made the poem happen.” I think that’s because once you start paying attention to what you considered small, insignificant things, you become more attentive to everything and come to realize that nothing is insignificant—except to the egotist. This is the viewpoint necessary for writing haiku, and it was Bashō who said to distrust all adjectives of degree.

Writing haiku is a wonderful discipline for any writer—not only a poet but anyone who wants to cultivate attentiveness to the world and to language. But it’s very difficult to do well. I once spent a four-hour plane flight trying to rub two images together to produce a “spark” in three lines. And a whole morning that had been designed for housecleaning got devoted to reducing the cluttered apartment to my vision of Japanese simplicity in these lines:

I dream emptiness:
bare floor,
sun in a bowl.

If you do want to take the time to write haiku with your class, browse through William Higginson’s wonderfully thorough Haiku Handbook, (4) and immerse yourself in a good anthology, such as Robert Hass’s recent translations, The Essential Haiku. But rather than write haiku with the whole class, you might choose simply to read some aloud together and then give special help to anyone who really wants to try his hand at it.

The exercise Katherine described is one I’ve done with ten-year-olds as well as seniors. Seated quietly in a circle on the floor with their eyes closed, having just focused for a few minutes on their breathing, students listen to me read Buson’s lines that invite us to see a luna moth sleeping with folded wings on a one-ton temple bell. I read it several times, or ask someone else to read it after me. We sit silently for a minute. Then, keeping our eyes closed, we go around the circle saying what our senses and associations gave us as we listened to the poem. Responses range from memories of a trip to Japan or to a museum, to readings for a religion course, to an image of the startled moth flying away as the bell is rung, to an appreciation of the textural contrast between the fragile wings and the heavy bronze or iron, to the juxtaposition of an ancient bell with an ephemeral insect, to a suggestion that both objects are sleeping . . . .

The students realize, if they hadn’t before now, that everyone heard a different poem, based in part on her own experiences and her predilections for one sense over the other, for space over time, for philosophy over art. “Suppose I had used a different translation,” I ask, “with no reference to the folded wings or the weight of the bell? What would your imagination have supplied, do you think?”

Appreciating haiku calls for the same attentiveness as drawing an object and then finding the precise words to describe what we’ve seen. It’s just that process in reverse. If we can pay attention to three lines of poetry—really see what the poet has “drawn”—we should be able to read longer poems with the same empathetic attentiveness.

At this point it can be helpful to ask students to make a painting or collage of the images in a somewhat longer poem. Collage is particularly rich in possibilities if you insist that students choose a variety of textures and shapes and layerings to capture not only literal textures and shapes that may be mentioned or implicit in the images (and the shape of the poem on the page?) but also the “feel” of the poem—the poet’s tone. This requires careful, imaginative reading, silently and aloud. It’s also a good idea to get the class brainstorming a list of materials and objects with interesting, evocative texture that they might use—sand paper, cotton, silver foil, plastic wrap, brown paper bags, rubber bands, nails, string, ribbon, strands of hair, lipstick, etc. Given the declining number of art programs in the schools, it may be wise to get a list of shapes up on the board, too, and show examples of collage—to lift it out of the realm of glued cut-outs from teen fashion and sports magazines.

I’ve used Wallace Stevens’s “Disillusionment at Ten O’Clock,” Gary Snyder’s “Four Poems for Robin,” e. e. cummings’s “in Just-,” Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”—there are lots of possibilities. (5) You can hang the collages on the wall and combine art show with poetry reading. If you make it clear that this work is to be taken seriously, you can get students to “read” one another’s collages, once they’ve head the relevant poems: “I like the way you made the rhododendron blossoms bigger than lifesize and kind of transparent with the plastic wrap, because in the poem they’re real flowers but they’re falling while the guy’s asleep so maybe he’s dreaming them, too—and they could be, like, a symbol of this old girlfriend he misses. And you made the beach out of sandpaper, which is a good contrast to the plastic wrap, like it’s nitty gritty reality.” “Yes, and the beach goes off to the back of the paper like it goes on forever—it’s the rest of his life without her” (Gary Snyder’s “Four Poems for Robin”).

Or they can write journal entries or even essays about the connections they see between poem and collage. The main point is, once again, to slow them down and intensify their experience of encountering a poem.

 

NOTES:

  1. Frederick Franck, Zen Seeing, Zen Drawing: Meditation in Action (New York: Bantam/Doubleday, 1993) xvii. An important book for every poet and poetry lover to own. To quote from the jacket: “Franck encourages us to pick up a pencil so that after years of merely looking at the world around us, we see it again as if for the first time. Filled with wise and moving autobiographical recollections, Zen stories, quotations, koans, proverbs, anecdotes about his students’ breakthroughs, and Franck’s own beautiful pen-and-ink views of the world,” this book “will renew and refresh those who draw as well as those who do not.”

  2. Sylvia Plath, “Mushrooms” in The Collected Poems (New York: Harper & Row, 1981) 139.

  3. John Moffitt in Reflections of Watermelon Pickle . . . and Other Modern Verse, ed. Dunning, Lueders, and Smith (Glenville, IL: Scott, Foresman and Co., 1966) 21. Many of us who came of age as teachers in the sixties still love and use this anthology, which is, unfortunately, out of print. Moffitt’s poem may be found in other collections.

  4. William J. Higginson with Penny Harter, The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku (New York: Kodansha America, Inc., 1985). An invaluable paperback reference and anthology that includes material on the form (along with the tanka), a brief history of haiku traditional and modern, and samples by Japanese, American, and European poets ranging from the four best-known masters—Bashō, Buson, Issa, and Shiki—to skilled contemporary American haiku writers like Geraldine Clinton Little. There are several helpful chapters on how to read and write haiku with students, and an interesting list of traditional “season words” or kigo—plants, animals, weather, rituals—arranged by season. Students who have suffered in elementary school from syllable counting and workbook formulae (“fill in a sprint flower, a color, an emotion”) can be converted by exposure to some of the modern American examples and by Higginson’s down-to-earth attitude: “Haiku happens all the time, wherever there are people who are ‘in touch’ with the world of their senses, and with their own feeling response to it.”

    Keeping a sketchbook/notebook during different times of year can help sensitize some students to the clarity of haiku, and for those who are convinced their haiku have to about pretty, peaceful scenes, read them Michael McClintock’s poem, anthologized in The Haiku Handbook (see above):

    dead cat . . .
    open mouthed
    to the pouring rain

    My own two favorite books for capturing the essence of haiku are A Zen Wave by Robert Aitken (New York: Weatherhill, Inc., 1978) and Sam Hamill’s Bashō’s Ghost (Seattle: Broken Moon Press, 1989). Each little chapter of A Zen Wave is an intimate, thoughtful talk by Aitken, one of the first American Zen masters, who studied Japanese poetry and Zen in Japan, and each talk focuses on one of Bashō’s haiku—its spirit, its language, some of the different translations.

    Gary Synder writes that Aitken “illuminates the angles and corners of loneness and community, plainness and beauty, in the homey, homeless way of Zen.” Hamill, a poet, translator, student of Japanese culture, and the founder of Copper Canyon Press, travels through parts of northern Japan where Bashō made his journeys three hundred years ago, seeking the poet’s spirit in poets and artists he meets along the way, in places and objects of which Bashō wrote, and in his own responses to the world he encounters. A very moving book.

    This is also the place to recommend poet Robert Hass’s translations of Bashō, Buson, and Issa—The Essential Haiku (Hopewell, NJ: The Ecco Press, 1994), which contains about a hundred poems by each writer and an introductory sketch of each. Hass writes that he has tried to give us “the variety and intensity of experience this small form can sustain. What is in these poems can’t be had elsewhere. About the things of the world, and the mind looking at the things of the world and the moments and the language in which we try to express them, they have unusual wakefulness and clarity.”

  5. Short lyrics by Stevens, Snyder, and cummings, along with excellent, flexible writing suggestions, may all be found very conveniently in Kenneth Koch’s and Kate Farrell’s fine anthology and poetry teaching manual, Sleeping on the Wing (see note 9, chap. 3). This is a classic that should be on every high school poetry teacher’s bookshelf.

Judith Rowe Michaels, "Hand-Eye Coordination" from Risking Intensity: Reading and Writing Poetry with High School Students. Copyright © 1999 by the National Council of Teachers of English. Posted with permission.
Originally Published: September 2, 2010

COMMENTS (20)

On March 15, 2012 at 10:40am Katelin Cash wrote:
I really enjoyed reading this article and, as a poetry student and
budding poet, I found the information presented here really helpful
and expansive. I like your emphasis on capturing the physical, sensory
detail of your environment as a catalyst for poetry, when oftentimes I
find myself focusing on abstract, obscure, unseen things. I liked
hearing about your experience as a teacher, especially the student’s
response on her newfound attentiveness when drawing from your
senses to stir this imagination and creativity into art. I think having
this attention is particularly suited to writing haikus, the little snippets
or flashes of images that create a far greater lasting impression than
you thought that amount of words could produce. I like that you
incorporated drawing into this study of processing detail. I will have to
try this…I like how you emphasize not falling into judgments, really
looking at everything anew and studying it for what it is versus what
you think it is. I found that very inspiring. I also liked how you
incorporated mediation and collage into the study of poetry, which are
interconnected in perspective and mindfulness. I agree that changing
your perspective, the way you see or take time to notice things, will
ultimately be the greatest factor in writing poetry and reading poetry. I
can see you are a great teacher and I thank you for providing me with
such refreshing, valuable knowledge.

On October 17, 2012 at 3:55pm Alexandra Simms wrote:
It is very true how all other senses are robbed of attention and
acknowledgement due to sight. This article is wonderful to introduce
people into the artistic view that is experiencing life with all of our
senses, and seeing things in every detail that is often overlooked or
taken for granted. It is especially true in your statement that we see
what we want to see, what we’re used to seeing. Again, this article calls
for us to regard everything around us in a new light and truly for what it
is. Your method of writing the description as though you are the first
and only to experience something is especially helpful in how to
describe something with a fresh mind to share with others.

On October 18, 2012 at 8:23pm Samantha Grab wrote:
I really enjoyed reading your article. Recently in my philosophy class, we were learning about phenomenology (in simple definition this means the study of what appears) and how this would pertain to art. We talked about how painters needed to “relearn” how to see, and paint objects from different perspectives. The same as you showed it, pertains to poetry, and could be said of other things in our lives endlessly. A philosophy professor named Dagfinn Follesdal gave such a great example of how we take everyday things for granted by explaining that when one enters a room, they just expect a floor to be there because that view has been engrained into our minds. As for the founder of phenomenology Edmund Hussler, he explained that each of us creates our own world from our perspectives, and he wanted us to look at things in ways we never thought of. So just as an artist needs to "relearn" how to see to paint things just as they are, poets could take great, great use of "relearning" what they see as well to produce poetry just as you have described. Everyone has preconceived notions, and assumptions, but if more of us were taught to truly look at the objects we see, and use all of our 5 senses, the awakening of our consciousness’ would not only be enlightening, but all artists alike could produce new works with amazing detail and reality to them. Thus their work would share different outlooks to the people reading or viewing it, and then those who had just experienced the persons work, could share that experience with others and so forth.

On March 18, 2013 at 11:34am j. howard wrote:
I learned many of these techniques and ways of seeing
through my dance studies. I never really applied them to
writing before and should try them. From studying dance
and having to make images and metaphors with and on the
body, I feel more connected when to the world when I am
out observing things that my "spark" interest. One
approach that many writers should try (if there
experimental and into performance writing) is this
exploration called weathering. A part of it is being
blind folded and being taken to a location, say a field,
and a partner leads you to an area you have to explore
without the seeing aperture. I think this heightens what
one sees because of touch, smell, taste, memory,
associations, etc. However, seeing, for me, is being
able to look past it's nowness but the continuous
present-tense of it; what meaning will last for me as I
try to distill the object, scene, person, animal or
whatever onto paper..? But thank you for other ways at
seeing and how to use them not just for writing but for
other arts as well.

On March 18, 2013 at 8:03pm Jonathan wrote:
Poetry is one of the least liked subjects for many
students of any subject, whether it be scientific or
liberal or artistic. myself included. I'm actual
intertested primarily in literature and theology, but
it's actually quite difficult for me to appreciate the
literal imagery of poetry. However, reading your
article. I've somewhat switched my mind over to the way
of thinking that I think many poets are attuned to, and
anyone who would need to write would need to be so
inclined towards. I love what you have done with your
class, making them see through a certain lens of what
the world was actually made to do: inspire awe and
wonder. You have made your students look at the
smallest of creatures and find the beauteous intricacies
in each one. You've inspired me, in a way, to approach
life in this way, and, to attempt to teach others to see
through this lens as well.

On March 20, 2013 at 9:06pm Jonathan wrote:
For many, poetry is a least favorite, or, at least, less
concentrated subject in schools and colleges. I say
this as someone whose least favorite subject is poetry,
despite the fact that my favorite subjects are either
theologically or literary based. Poetry does not catch
on to me the same way that good prose does, but, in
reading this article, my eyes have been opened moreso to
a way of thinking about the world that makes poetry make
more sense. The way in which you had your students
break down the components of their environments was a
brilliantly fresh way to think of the world around us.
It is something which I may take into my career as a
teacher.

On March 20, 2013 at 9:07pm Jonathan wrote:
For many, poetry is a least favorite, or, at least, less
concentrated subject in schools and colleges. I say
this as someone whose least favorite subject is poetry,
despite the fact that my favorite subjects are either
theologically or literary based. Poetry does not catch
on to me the same way that good prose does, but, in
reading this article, my eyes have been opened moreso to
a way of thinking about the world that makes poetry make
more sense. The way in which you had your students
break down the components of their environments was a
brilliantly fresh way to think of the world around us.
It is something which I may take into my career as a
teacher.

On March 20, 2013 at 11:09pm C.Miller wrote:
I think that it's fascinating to get people more aware of content or
surroundings, by having people use their five senses. The most
effective way of learning for many people is experimental learning. In
experimental learning people can form his or her own perceptions of
what is occurring, instead of trying to go with what is given. I think it
promotes critical thinking and the ability of advanced deconstruction of
poems/art. The problem with most people today is that many are
lacking the patience and fortitude to take everything in and express
himself or herself more freely. Everyone is guarded and don't have the
time. However, I feel that, if they made the time, an organic essence
of depth will be created and could never be tainted.

C.M.

On March 21, 2013 at 10:11pm nosheen wrote:
I am not really into poetry or literature and it is hard to approach these
subjects in depth. But for some reason I really enjoyed reading this
article. I remember when I was taking literature class when I was in high
school I had no interest in that class I felt exactly the same way as it is
mentioned in the article that it felt like time stopped during the class.
It’s hard to focus on something when your mind is not ready for it.
Seeing for me is just the present whatever is there rite now. However
there are many different ways of approaching something no matter if
it’s a piece of art or poetry. It depends on your senses how you look at
it.

On March 26, 2013 at 12:41pm Katrina Bridges wrote:
I would have never thought to try to write a poem this way. The article was very intriguing and helpful. It is amazing what you will notice if you just slow yourself down. The way you can just jot down words and use the words to develop into a beautiful poem is some that is truly phenomenal. This process does seem to be very difficult to complete but once you have succeed at it, it appears to be very rewarding. It also amazes me how such a short poem can have such a dramatic affect. Using the 5 senses is defiantly something I am willing to try in my next poem. Although I would not consider myself a good poet, I am able to put some words together to describe a feeling. I look forward to exploring all that poetry has to offer.

On October 30, 2013 at 9:14pm Almairis Castillo wrote:
After reading this article, I not only appreciate poetry more, but I
appreciate that you strive to show the importance of simple things in
life and how significant they are to making successful haikus. You used
an example of yourself, taking words from your journal of an everyday
experience in a hospital, used the simplest everyday things that would
normally go unnoticed as important and made it poetry. I agree, it is
clear that Haiku’s are all about taking something so small and
insignificant and showing it’s meaning, with limited space. I also
appreciate your comparison of haiku appreciate to the reverse process
of drawing something and describing what you’ve seen. If I could
compare a haiku verses other poetry to modern day social networking, I
would say a Haiku is like Twitter, while other poetry is like Facebook:
You have plenty of space to say what you want to say on Facebook, but
it takes skill to try and fit all those same feelings and emotions onto a
150 character count twitter post. The same goes for Haiku poems. It is
just as possible to get the same emotion out onto a haiku, as it is to
write an entire 8-stanza poem. I really hope your students learned a lot
from you because I sure did just from reading this article.

On October 30, 2013 at 9:27pm Erica Murphy wrote:
I haven't been much of an writer at all especially with poetry but the way the teacher had them to relax and think about something else other than what's going on in their life. Reading Hand-Eye Coordination made me want to do this exercise as well. I feel that I can become a better writer if I just forget about what's happening around me and just relax. I can relate to this article even though this is an online class I feel like I'm in class and time just stop for a very long time. The way I see art is not the way the artist view its own art and its the same way with poetry. I like that the exercise incorporated meditation because it changed viewpoints and the way we see things but notice other things that can help with understanding poetry.

On October 30, 2013 at 11:46pm Tamira Davis wrote:
This article is wonderful! The ideas and suggestions you wrote about were excellent. I think the ideas you wrote about in your article can be applied to not only writing poetry, but also how we look at our world. I don’t write poetry, but I am taking a class and learning about it. I must admit I am one of those people who just glance at the scenery, people and objects around me without really looking at them. Truth be told, I’m usually looking down at a cell phone or looking ahead to my next destination. If you ask me to describe something or someone, it is with the usual words such as blue, tall, short and cold. The examples of the poems in the article were excellent, while reading some of the lines from your journal, I could actually visualize and see clearly the sandals on the beach, I could smell the mixture of sea kelp and flowers, I could see the tiny prints of the seagulls in the sand and it felt like I was actually there! I also believe that when it comes to writing a poem or haiku, you can create a good or great poem if we just slow down and take our time to really observe the subject we are writing about. Again, great article and maybe I can use some of your suggestions and try to write a poem.

On October 31, 2013 at 12:19am Jazmin Chambers wrote:
While reading the article, I found myself stopping to do
activities that you suggested. I closed my eyes and opened them,
and saw my room, for exactly what it was for the first time. My
rooms had clothes all over the floor, paper-work, that I thought
was VERY important, was gathered in a corner next to trash. My
dirty shoes were on top of clean cloths, and my purse was
dripping water from the rain, onto my school books. At that very
moment, I felt as if my room reflected me. I do believe that it
is imperative that young writers, especially those who are
interested in poetry, do the activities that you have suggested.
To actually see, smell, taste, feel, and hear things in a new
sense is critical. Experimental learning, seems to be a more
realistic approach to teaching poetry. It allows the freedom for
your brain to roam and gather new feelings and judgments, about
a particular something. You have inspired me to become a better
poet, even if poetry isn't my best skill. Pretty much, I think,
anyone can become a poet ,as long as they are willing, to pay
close attention to details and their own inner feelings.

On October 31, 2013 at 12:55am Jazmin Chambers wrote:
It is very important that students, who are interested in
poetry, do the activities that you have suggested. I am
not a major fan of poetry myself, but I do believe, that
because these activities are able to be done
experimentally, hands on, then I do believe that non-poet
lovers and those who find poetry to be the BEST thing they
will ever read, will both enjoy each activity and learn
tremendously from them. To be able to connect all you
senses together and joining them in harmony makes poetry
what it is; it will give your poetry the importance that
it needs. While reading I did stop to do most of the
activities that you suggested and I found them to be
extremely helpful with creativity. Seeing and hearing
things for the first time can open up several different
emotions that you may not know existed.

On March 22, 2014 at 3:05pm Diane Lopez wrote:
Wow! Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful article. I highly
respect your method of teaching by incorporating all of the senses. I
realize that much of my poetry tends to fall short on this. As a
licensed massage therapist, I am trained to incorporate all of the
senses, however - I never really thought about applying this concept
to poetry. I think that my focus has always been in visualization, by
attempting to paint a picture for my audience. Although I am fairly
new to writing poetry, I have noticed how my work has evolved over
the years and I am excited to develop it further. After reading your
article I cannot wait to apply the techniques that you have shared.
Thank you so much for the insight!

On October 21, 2014 at 3:14pm jordan stein wrote:
The author describes a haiku as a discipline in the
fine eye of language and the world. I love this point
because in 3 lines you can access a bite size
perspective on the world around you. Haiku's are
probably normally elegant because of they are meant to
be the simplest thought and image. Which is why to
really get involved in the poem we must understand the
subject. He says he has his students draw the object
first. This is a way we can get in touch with our
abstract perspective on the subject. Haiku's are a
great access to what is beautiful about poetry; Its
abstract and personal and hopefully vivid view on our
word. Great Article.

On October 29, 2014 at 2:19pm jordan stein wrote:
The author describes a haiku as a discipline in the
fine eye of language and the world. I love this point
because in 3 lines you can access a bite size
perspective on the world around you. Haiku's are
probably normally elegant because of they are meant to
be the simplest thought and image. Which is why to
really get involved in the poem we must understand the
subject. To really find the beauty in something we
have to become intimate with it, not bystanders from
afar. We all know this from our own relationships. He
says he has his students draw the object first. This
is a way we can get in touch with our abstract
perspective on the subject. Instead of just what it
looks like the students have a chance to represent the
subject in any form they can relate to. Haiku's are a
great access to what is beautiful about poetry; its
abstract and personal and hopefully vivid view on our
word. They teach us a lesson in discipline, in saying
what you want in merely three lines. These poems teach
us how to have a relationship with all things. To
relate with care and perspective. Great Article.

On October 29, 2014 at 6:51pm Shenae Schaeffer wrote:
I like how Judy explains to her students that you can't just use hands to express art in form of writing, but using your senses. I like how she walked her students through each step, not just what they see, but actually visualizing the little things. Her student Katherine gave a good description on her observation of New York. She made me feel like I was there, seeing Manhattan for the first time although I never been. As I'm following the steps to imagine each object with my eyes closed, it came to a point where Judy wants you to see the object in the poem differently. As a result, seeing how easily a short poem can be written from using your five senses helped me to approach poems in a better form.

On October 29, 2014 at 9:47pm Karen Perkins wrote:
This article was a fantastic read! It’s difficult to
stop and notice the most minute detail in one’s life
especially when the world around us is a constant
menagerie of images, colors, and sounds. I found it
especially beautiful to know that these students were
able to separate themselves from the anxieties that may
plague their days. These are the sort of methods and
disciplines that I will definitely incorporate into my
visual arts class, especially since literacy has been
additional focus in my program. However, I do wish that
the article went more in depth about the
emotional/social implications that our students face on
a daily and how these methodologies do to help them in
the long term.

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Biography

Dr. Judy Rowe Michaels is poet in residence and English teacher at Princeton Day School in Princeton, New Jersey, as well as a poet in the schools for the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.The author of two books on teaching poetry and writing, both published by NCTE (Risking Intensity and Dancing With Words), she has also two collections of poems, The Forest of Wild Hands and, most recently, Reviewing the Skull (WordTech Editions). . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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