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East County Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019 5 months ago

A place for poetry

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Willis students explore ... leaving them wanting more ... so it wasn't a chore.
by: Andrew Atkins Staff Writer

Mira Balakrishnan adjusts her glasses, looks at the book in her hands and begins to read.

“Its eyes glimmer like opals / It spots the helpless mouse,” she said, and suddenly, the fourth-grader in Karen Nikla’s class at Robert E. Willis Elementary School leads the listeners on a journey of a high-speed chase full of wonder and drama in her poem, “Cat.”

Nikla spent a month of class time exploring poetry, reading the likes of Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky and teaching her students the magic of weaving words.

Students wrote ideas and drafts of poems every day, until at the end, they picked their favorite poems and compiled them into their own poetry book.

“I was so impressed by their reading and writing of poetry,” Nikla said.

Subjects varied wildly. Take Kayden West, for example, who wrote his poems about eggs. Yes, eggs.

“My sense of humor is eggs,” he said. “I like dropping eggs and seeing them break.”

An excerpt from one of his poems, “Omelet,” reads, “Cooking an omelet on the stove, not bothered with anything else. Except … ”

His poem proceeds to tell the tale of that ill-fated omelette.

West said he was particularly fond of Silverstein’s work, and he sees potential for anybody in poetry.

“It really depends how you feel about writing,” he said. “If you like writing and you like humor, then you definitely have a career in poetry.”

Balakrishnan said not everything in poetry needs to make sense, and that not everything needs a reason.

“Everything is so magical about poetry,” she said.

Ella Hartigan and Nick Chop shared their experience in writing a poem together, which explored their differences and similarities. 

Each read different lines of their shared poem, and sometimes, they’d say something out loud, together.

“It made us sound like we were aliens,” Chop said.

The poetry unit culminated in a “Poetry Cafe,” where students had the opportunity to read to friends, family and classmates poems from other authors or poems they wrote themselves. Guests were served beverages and snacks, and the room was suitably decorated.

About 45 people attended, Nikla said.

“The kids were the stars,” she said. “That’s what I really liked about it.”

Nikla said she found herself with some new favorite writers, saying she enjoyed her students’ poetry even more than the published poets.

After the students’ success, Nikla plans to repeat the unit next year. She was moved by the students’ originality and creativity.

She said there is a place for poetry in the lives of all of her students.

“It gives them a voice for their feelings,” she said. “Everything is accepted.”

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