Writing "I remembers" with the Fourth Graders at Garfield Elementary School

At Naropa, one of my colleagues is the sparkly-eyed Australian emigrée Lisa Birman.  Hope I got the accent on the right e.  The other day, facing an upcoming visit to my son's school in Loveland, Colorado, I called her for help.  Ronaldo Wilson, bibliomancy, and analogies to contemporary architectural theory I can do; ages nine to eleven, with unlaced skater keds, not so much.

She suggested I use Joe Brainard's "I remember" as the model for my visit to my son's class, and I thought, how can I combine that with Edwin Torres' recent Harriet post on letters, walls and childhood: his description of a teacher who created "a word-environment around the school. Poetry everywhere, words on paper, taped-up in corners, hallways, doors—to walk in one’s alphabet, to actually listen to the words you step through…"

In the end, we created a fake meadow in a corner of the library: complete with a candle, lit, to represent the sun; a chewed up wooden mammal; lemon balm and mint leaves from my garden; and a dried stalk I found in Denver, on the sidewalk outside the home of poet/weavers Eric Baus and Andrea Rexillus.  The s has slipped off from Baus; perhaps this can be one of the letters hanging from the ceiling, that the children lunged at like fruit.  That makes the children, and not what they're reaching for, sound like rampant, excessive, and recently escaped mangoes or kumquats.

Upon Lisa's suggestion - (I called her in a slight panic from outside the school) - the fourth graders did "I remembers" for an early memory, a memory of that morning or the previous night, the earth, and -- because, as I told them, "poetry is not all fuzzy bunnies" -- we did an "I remember" for something sad.  Something sad that happened to us, and something sad that had happened to the world.  We read Lorca.  I read them a paragraph from the essay on duende.  Not sure why.  It was in my bag with the twigs.  The last "I remember" was anything they wanted: sentences ranged on a continuum from cupcakes to the second world war.  We learned the art of opening a book at random, sensing towards it in the library, and making a sentence, or a poem, out of what we found there.

It was such a beautiful, joyous afternoon.  We veered back through the corridors, searching for objects and words that were both "magical and ordinary at the same time."  I loved their creativity and physical freedom.  When we reached the doors of their home rooms, one of them said: "So.  This is poetry club, right?  When are you coming again?"  I explained that I was visiting their school for National Poetry Month and that this was a one off.  They said: "No! We want it every day.  Or at least once a week." I said yes.  I said that if their teachers said yes, I'd return.

And this is the first section of the poem that the students of 4a and 4b made, as a group: selected at random and typed up, in the order that they came, with some sentences repeating where they shuffled back.  Also, the last four sentences are ones that I selected to end the poem, but perhaps the next step -- at the next meeting of the newly inaugurated Garfield Elementary Poetry Club -- would be to ask them -- the poets -- if they agree with the choice to end it, their poem, in this way.  Maybe they want to end with the rancid cupcake instead.

Garfield Elementary School: I Remember: [1]

I remember my great grandma was dying.

I remember that my aunt crawled out of bed in a T-shirt and tiny pink shorts.

I remember the almanac on the chair.

I remember my bed.  I remember the lightning.  I remember the book of time.

I remember my aunt getting in a car accident and getting killed.

I remember the child.

I remember the report.

I remember the plan.

I remember I was on the floor and he told me to get up off the floor and I did.

I remember the voyages and Sally and the world being trashed.

I remember we were going to stop at Starbucks this morning but we didn't have time.

I remember the book of time.

I remember the north.

I remember the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. I remember all the people shouting in the war.  I remember when I read for the first time about the second world war.  I remember how they killed the human race and all the oxygen.

I remember the trees and the oxygen.

I remember reading a French book in bed during the thunder and lightning.

I remember waking up and playing my Japanese games on my  laptop.

I remember seeing the word: "elements."

I remember seeing the words: "now you are the fastest piglet in the county."

I remember the wolf pack taking breaths.

I remember the day I wasn't able to see my brother.

I remember a really bad tasting chocolate cupcake.

I remember the child.  I remember the report. I remember the plan.

I remember the day.

I remember the night.

I remember what it felt like.

I remember.







Originally Published: April 23rd, 2011

Bhanu Kapil lives in Colorado where she teaches at Naropa University. She also teaches in Goddard College’s low-residency MFA. She is the author of a number of full-length works of poetry/prose, including The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers (Kelsey Street Press, 2001), Incubation: a space for monsters (Leon Works, 2006), humanimal...