I recently offered a poetry collage workshop in the Museum’s Art Studio, focusing specifically on free-association and shaped poetry. Too often, writing in schools is presented in a way that is stressful and overwhelming for kids. I wanted to see if I could present a writing activity that was fun and creative by adding structure and inviting visitors to experiment with the most free-form type of writing: poetry.
Visitors used collections of pre-cut-out words to explore free-association composition and play with the arrangement of words. Visitors also experimented with shaped poetry, using both pre-made shapes and their own shapes, to gain inspiration and connect literary and visual arts. On the day of the workshop, the Art Studio had a display of birds from the Museum’s natural history collection as inspiration for visual art, and I used that display as a jumping off point for literary art as well. We had several bird stencils available for visitors to use, and they were also encouraged to come up with their own shapes. We had magazines so they could find words that they didn’t see already cut out, or use images to further decorate their poetry. Many younger participants found this method of composition much more accessible than just trying to “write something.” Having words to pick from allowed them to start with a word that caught their eye or a shape that they felt inspired by. One young visitor created a mixed-media piece in which she used cut-out words to compose a two-line poem inside a bird stencil, then filled in the rest of the stencil with multi-colored bits of paper from the magazine cut out in the shape of feathers. Other young visitors were able to use new concepts like personification and juxtaposition.
This workshop resulted in some great intergenerational interactions. Adults created their own poems, helped kids hunt for words, defined unfamiliar words, and brainstormed ways to replicate the activity at home using their own old magazines. Several recognized the similarities with magnetic refrigerator poetry and were considering getting some for their home. During a second workshop, I observed a family working together using poetry to articulate their feelings about family. The child had never written a poem before and had a wonderful experience using a new art form to express her love for her family. They were kind enough to leave one of their poems behind. I’m grateful that I could provide a positive and interactive way for them to learn and bond through composition.