This week I participated in a webinar with poet Georgia Heard offered by my state reading council. Heard spoke about wanting students to see the world like poets. Then she shared specific ways to help students find poetry, write using mentors, and revise their poems. The point of revision, she noted, is to match the words you wrote on paper with what’s in your heart.
I have read most of Heard’s books and used her poetry techniques for as long as I have been teaching. However, there was one revision lesson she shared this time that I heard with fresh ears: don’t teach students to use thesaurus dot com, rather teach them to use the thesaurus in their minds.
The example she gave was the word gray. She shared this screenshot of an online search for synonyms:
The results of the search through the thesaurus in her mind were very different: wrinkled elephant gray. This is how those words appear in her final draft of “Where Do I Find Poetry?”
“In trees dancing on a windy day,from “Where Do I Find Poetry?” by Georgia Heard
when sky is wrinkled and elephant gray.”
What a simple revision technique! I have been sifting through the thesaurus in my mind ever since Heard planted this seed.
As I walk, I notice there is finally green on the trees. I wonder, what kind of green? The green of young spring leaves. Young green.
At the food pantry I notice the tidy rows and rows of cans and boxes. They are neatly organized, like soldiers, I think. Orderly rows of canned food waiting for deployment.
I open the back door to let my dog into the yard and hear the white noise of the wind in the trees, now that there are finally leaves to flap around. I have always thought it sounds like waves. Now, I think about what kind of waves because using a thesaurus is always about specificity. It is not a search for a word, but rather a search for just the right word. Wind and leaves dance together like waves rolling over themselves far from shore, like a waterfall spraying stones.
This close attention to word choice walks hand in hand with imagery, and something about Heard’s reference to the thesaurus in our minds makes revision buzz with purpose and heart. I think it might have caused me to see the world a bit more like a poet.