"You can make a poem rhyme in your ear. You can make a poem rhyme in your eye," is the poet's message to his fourth-grade audience in Manassas Park Elementary School.
A hand goes up.
"Are you an expert in poems?" someone asks wordsmith Davi Det Hompson.
"On my kind of poetry, nobody else's," Hompson responds.
A finder and maker of poems, Hompson is helping the class with their rhyming and writing as part of a program paid for by a matching grant from the Virginia Commission of the Arts and Humanities.
He picks up and recites one of the youngster's poems:
"I did some spelling .
"I go to my arts ."
This is found poetry. You rhyme it with your eyes, says Hompson.
"A poem has to be like a ball. The bottom bounces back to the top."
The misspelled "ants" in the second line connects with the "spelling" in the first line to make a poem. "It tells a story," Hompson points out.
The kids connect with this kind of poetry, he says. Earlier that morning in class, they were told to list the clothes they were wearing.
One student's clothing list patterns a poem from the repeated beat of the word blue. Hompson shows them.
He calls the student to the front of the class, stoops at her side and together they alternate reading the lines, sing-songing the sound of more [WORD ILLEGIBLE] poetry.
A found poem is one that happens anywhere you find it, Hompson says.
"I use what's given to me . . . put emphasis on word arrangement and play with the meaning as well."
Hompson's name itself is part of his literature. Davi Det Hompson is the nom de plume derived or restructured from David E. Thompson, of Richmond.
Hompson was selected by Manassas Park this year to be one of the first in a series of writers to work one week each in the city school system.
"My area of knowledge is visual poetry," he elaborates later, indicating that he finds and makes seeable poems.
"There are no academic programs that teach this kind of poetry. The system hasn't been set up for it," Hompson, 39, said. "I usually teach it in the art, not the literature, department."
Hompson generally has at least one show of his works each year in New York City. Locally, his word poems have been spoken and projected onto walls at the Washington Project for the Arts and the Museum of Temporary Art. He also has read for the Mid-Day Muse (lunch hour poetry sessions) at Folger Library.
"I should be grateful that someone assumes the need for poetry. I always dread the moment when someone gets up and asks 'Why? Why poetry?' That's the question that bugs every poet in the morning . . .
"I don't come in with the idea of telling people how to write a poem or teach a poetic attitude. It's a nebulous process . . . how you play with words before you use them and after you use them. Serious play. It's a lesson in morals, intellectual courage."
For some fourth graders in teacher Mary Weston's class, the process may be nebulous but necessary.
"It's pretty . . . It's hard to say . . . I like poetry a lot because it describes stuff," says Mary Simmons, 9, wrinkling her nose and looking perplexed at the question. "I read a lot of it. I think it's funny and sad. When I play school, I always write poems and check them like I'm the teacher marking the class."
Katie Lee, 10, recently told her mother she wanted to be a poem writer when she grew up. This was "right after I saw my first poem writer, . . . some dude down in King's Dominion," she explained. "I felt like writing a poem too . . . My sister Lora helped me get started a little bit."
That was in second grade. She hasn't changed her mind, she said, and still is writing and reading poetry. "I'm trying to read a whole bunch of poems so I can get the hang of it."
All her classmates were finally getting the hang of it by day's end. They clapped and shouted approvingly when the next scheduled poetry session was announced.
It was then 3 p.m. Davi Det Hompson's day in poem-finding class ended after school in the hallway, where he was handed these words of another student, second grader Ray Berry, 8 years old:
do you Love Star
Yes I do
Me and I like the girl.
I love Star.
Love me star.
Me Love you star.
Poet Hompson said it was more than a fitting end to his day's work.