Friday, April 13, 2012

Mr. S. rocks

Last spring I attended a poetry workshop at the Highlights Foundation facility in Honesdale, PA led by David Harrison.  It was a great group of people which included an unassuming but very talented poet and special ed teacher from Phoenix, Ken Slesarik.(As you might imagine, I have particular respect for those who manage to teach full-time and write anything at all!)

Like many of us, Ken participated in the March Madness Poetry Tournament.  His first-round word was "thermal," and here's what he made of it...

Commander Thomas
by Ken Slesarik

I, Lieutenant Cornwall Thomas,
battle tested, make this promise;
although tantamount to treason
goin’ commando’s out of season,
so I’ll wear my thermal underwear,
concealing ample derrière
from botched cosmetic surgery
and Botox on the buttocks.

Funny, right?  But I'm not sure how middle-grade-friendly that let's just test it out on Duncan, age 9.5.  Before showing him Ken's poem, I ask:  "Duncan, do you know what Botox is?"
Duncan:  Y-e-e-es...(*mischievous glint*) Well, there's BUTTOCKS (heh heh), which is your behind, and then there's BOTOX, which is a kind of plastic surgery for your face.  But I guess you could get BOTOX (heh heh heh) for your BUTTOCKS (heh heh heh), and then your butt would be less wrinkly and saggy.
Okay, then!  Perfectly middle-grade-friendly!

So, I was in Phoenix just last week and caught up with Ken, who was flying high, for very good reason.  He had just uploaded an e-book called Poetry Rocks, which both highlights his efforts to promote poetry at Esperanza Elementary School and raises funds for more poetry activities there.  Esperanza is a small Title I school, and thanks to Mr. S. now has its own Poetry Rocks Poetry Club for 3rd-6th graders.

Here's some of Ken's commentary on the project.

"In April of 2011, I came across an article by children’s author Janet Wong talking about the possibilities of e-book publishing in regards to children’s poetry. I was especially impressed by her enthusiasm for promoting the genre and it got me thinking about how I could promote poetry at my small, Title 1 school. After giving it some thought, I drafted a proposal for an after school poetry club to encourage students to write with the eventual goal of publishing an e-book. The profits from this fundraiser would be used to promote poetry in our school. My principal, Denise McGloughlin has been very supportive throughout this project and we hope to continue and refine the process in the next year(s)."
It's nothing fancy, the Esperanza Elementary poetry anthology (although the cover is certainly eye-catching), but it represents a phenomenal amount of work on Ken's part as well as a nice glimpse into the kind of poetry work that's going on, especially this month, in classrooms and schools all over the U.S.  Here are a couple of my favorites from the collection.
Horse Apples
by Hannah Jensen

Horse he likes the food
“mmm” he said.
He ate an apple big and crunchy.

Horse he likes the food
"yum” he said.
He ate a carrot big and crunchy.

Horse he likes the food
“gulp” he said.
He ate a third grader big and crunchy!

by Nathan Bruun

Flowers on the ground
Flowers all around
Five daisies from me
Five roses from my brother
Five daffodils from my sister
A beautiful bouquet for mom to say
Happy Mother's Day!

David Harrison and Ken himself also contributed a poem, and if I'm not mistaken, a few other teachers as well.  (This could be Ken's greatest success--getting teachers to write along with their students!)  Ken's forte as a writer is his way with meter and rhyme (think Ogden Nash), and it shows up in some of the kids' work too:
by Kyra Larson

Ashley got out of bed,
she looked at the clock and said,
“Eee, I’m late! Oh dread!”
She rushed to school and her teacher said,
“Is that toothpaste on your head?”
To his credit, Ken included all the poems submitted, not just the "good" ones, giving even the least experienced readers and writers a chance to feel the thrill of publication and an incentive to continue their poetry explorations.  That means there are some clunkers, for sure, but they're charming clunkers and a regular part of the poetry landscape that we teachers and visiting authors inhabit.

I'm just so impressed by "Mr. S." and his energy and optimism, and I'm putting my money where my mouth is--I've downloaded Poetry Rocks not once but twice for use on different platforms.  I encourage you to buy your own copy and to support poetry at Esperanza too--in Ken's capable hands, your little $3.99 can add to a world of difference at one ready-to-rise school!

Poetry Friday is at Booktalking with Anastasia.  Spread the word!


  1. THIS is why e-publishing is SO VERY WONDERFUL. What a fantastic project to do with students. Hats off to Mr. S!

  2. Greetings, Heidi!
    I loved this post about our talented friend, Ken. Thanks for doing it. By coincidence, I'm also featuring his new book on my own blog today. You're invited to check him out there too. David

  3. Heidi,
    It was so nice visiting with you last week. The students are so excited about the book so thank you for fanning the flame! You Rock!

  4. That's such a great project. The kids must be so thrilled to see their poems in 'print'.

  5. Kudos to Ken and his students! I thought his offering for MMPoetry was very funny, and Duncan's response is just as great. I love that these students have had an opportunity to make their work public in this way, and I am off to check it out! Congratulations to all, and thank you to you, Heidi, for sharing this cutting edge project with us! a.

  6. Congratulations to Ken and the kids. They must be thrilled with this publication. It is always heartwarming to see such passion and dedication form teachers. Truly inspiring.

  7. Thank you Irene! I hope other teachers improve on this model and think about what else may be possible to promote poetry in the schools.

    Thank you David for your support and kindness!

    The students are very excited about their sudden fame Katya. I think some of them will be shopping for agents over the summer!

    Thank you Amy! Although this project was definitely work there is something to be said about merging your passion with your work. At times it felt more like fun.

    Thank you again Heidi for your support! You Rock!

  8. Off to buy the book! Thanks for sharing this with us, Heidi.

  9. Thanks for sharing something that is so positive for students and motivating for teachers, and vice versa! What a great idea and something I hope more will think about offering as an opportunity for their students. I know I will now that I have learned more! Thanks again.

  10. Well done Heidi and Ken.
    Thanks to both of you for all the fantastic work you do for your students.
    Great post Heidi.
    Ken, I'm off to get my own copy. Tell the kids "HI" for me.

  11. What a thrill for the kids. Thanks for pointing us to this project. (By the way, Heidi, my poem this week is for your collection of poems of objects, speaking in first person... It's here: here).

  12. I can't wait to get a copy for our classroom Kindle! I'm pretty sure my students' first question will be, "Can we do this with OUR poems?!?!"

  13. There are several reasons that I like this anthology.

    1) Ken's courage. It's not easy to start something and venture into new territory. I applaud you, Ken!

    2) The book is a real-world exercise not just in writing, but also a lesson about community.

    3) The uneven quality of the anthology presents a teaching opportunity. It can be hard for kids to look at their own work with a critical eye, but kids who don't attend Esperanza will be able to comment easily here since they don't know these kids.

    Have your students pick one poem that they feel they could revise further...and have them revise it!

    You might also have them choose their favorite 7 poems and compare their lists with each other to see if there are universal favorites. My favorites in the book are: "Late!" by Kyra (which reminded me of how much I love Karla Kuskin's poem about the bad morning); "Acquaintances" by Jayme; "Bouncy Ball" by Gwen; "Busses" by Aidan; "Fall Is..." by Ann, "Esperanza Poets" by Nora, and Ken's poem. Even if they can't articulate what they like about their favorite poems here (which is OK), I think they will see that there is some indescribable but clear divide between their favorites and their least-favorites.

    Thanks for sharing this e-book with us all, Heidi!

  14. Thank you Janet for your words of support and kindness! My principal encouraged staff to follow your suggestion and use the book as a teaching opportunity.
    I thought that was cool.


Thanks for joining in the wild rumpus!