Students at Bond Mill Elementary School in Laurel became amateur poets recently, with the help of a real pro: poet H.L. Van Brunt.
Van Brunt, a Bowie resident who has written five books of poetry and whose work has been published in several well-known magazines, visited the school to hold two weeks of workshops as part of the Maryland State Arts Council's Artists-in-Education Program. The program sends poets and other visual and performing artists into the state's schools and communities for workshops, residencies and performances.
On his first day at the school, Van Brunt visited fourth- and fifth-grade students in Umbrenda Herrington's classroom.
Herrington had been preparing her students for Van Brunt's visit since September, and the class had learned about a variety of poetic forms.
"I love teaching poetry," Herrington said, "because it helps a student to see things in new ways. It really generates excitement."
Indeed, part of Van Brunt's first lesson was aimed at helping students see objects in different ways. He printed letters and numbers in strange positions on the blackboard: a horizontal E, an upside-down Y, or a sideways 8, for example. The students were asked to imagine these figures as ordinary objects, and to use their "new eyes" to define the objects and create a poem around them.
Van Brunt explained the difference between a literal definition--"what it is"--and a poetic definition--"what it looks like." And he recited some of his works to demonstrate two types of poetry: open, or free-style, and fixed, which calls for a certain number of lines and type of rhyming.
The students were asked to list the six "tiniest sounds in the world" and to name swift and slow objects of beauty. Van Brunt said this exercise was meant to enhance their ability to "make word pictures and comparisons," and to trigger an awareness of beauty and a pleasure in playing with language.
After the lessons in creativity, the students were organized into groups of four and asked to read their poems to the class. Van Brunt, referring to them as part of a "traveling poetry circus," chose each reader with a "flying finger of fate." When a student read a catchy or interesting phrase, he pointed it out and repeated it to the class.
Van Brunt, 45, has been visiting schools since 1974. He says he has discovered that elementary-level students are more expressive and less self-conscious than ninth- or 10th-graders. "This age group is more willing to make mistakes, more willing to read aloud and more supportive of each other."
Bond Mill Principal Mary Jane Lusby says she considers the Artists-in-Education Program "an outstanding contribution to the classroom experience. Our school's PTA has a strong cultural arts committee which arranges for a program that allows for one performance per month here, as well as visits by other artists throughout the year. The PTA funds two-thirds of it ($2,000) and the arts council funds the other third. We hope to expand this poetry program and repeat it every year."