First Line Last Line Poetry

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Serves: One or Many

Cook Time: 9 minutes, 14 seconds

Perfect for

  • Encouraging poetry writing confidence.

  • Writing under the influence of master poets.

  • For teachers, this is a great activity for introducing and/or completing a history or novel unit. Combining creative writing with expository content writing is a great way to deepen connections within a specific subject area.



Ingredients

  • A collection of 5 to 10 poems. These can be about random subjects, or they can be connected by similar topics.

    • For example, when I was teaching 8th grade U.S. history and English, I collected a set of poems about slavery.

    • You can use my list of favorites, or gather your own.

    • Tip #1: Children’s poetry anthologies are awesome.

    • Tip #2: You can find almost any poem on the internet if you just Google the title + author. Or, you can Google poem + topic of your choice.

    • Also, you can use picture book first and last lines. Just pick any 5 or 10 books from your kids’ shelves or the classroom shelves. Picture books work because the language is often like poetry.


Writing Prep

  1. Pick a selection of poems to read. Really, any poems will do as long as you like them and/or they have great first and last lines.

  2. As you read, keep a list of first and last lines you like. Just jot them down on a piece of paper. (Note: if you adore a line that’s not a first or last line, it’s still ok to add it to your list, but make a decision about whether is sounds like a first or last line.)

  3. When you have a good selection of first and last lines, pick your favorite first line. Then, pick your favorite last line. These two lines should be from different poems. This might be a good time to know that your goal will be to write a poem that connects your favorite first and last lines. You will be writing all the ideas between those two lines.

  4. Get a new piece of paper.

  5. Write your first line at the top.

  6. Write your last line at the bottom.

  7. Read a sample first line last line poem written by Tk about slavery.


Time to Get Cooking

  1. Get a new piece of paper.

  2. Write your first line at the top.

  3. Write your last line at the bottom.

  4. Alternatively, you can write your lines on Post-it’s, putting one at the top and one at the bottom. This way, if the poem is more than one page, it’s easy to adjust the location of the last line.

  5. Write your poem using the Quick Write Method, creating a new poem that connects those two borrowed lines.



    Quick Write means: Write for 9 minutes, 14 seconds without stopping or talking. (Studies show that 9 minutes, 14 seconds is the perfect amount of time for this piece.) 

    Quick Writes grow writing love because:

    a. Writing fast for a short period of time helps you outrun the inner voice that says, “You can’t write.  You are bad at this!” 

    b. Tell yourself, “I don’t have time to listen to that critical voice.  I’m gonna go for it!”

    Keep pen/pencil/keyboard moving the entire time.

    If you get stuck, write I’m stuck I’m stuck I’m stuck until you aren’t anymore.  Cross that part out later.

    Don’t worry about spelling.

  6. Tip: I learned about first line last line poetry from Barry Spacks. Here are his directions:

Start a poem with one of the lines you selected. Wing it for a while, following up on the initial notion. When inspiration begins to slow, choose a last line to target toward. Work your way to at least a somewhat sane conclusion.”
— Barry Spacks, South Coast Writing Project

Share Your Words

1. When you are done, read your piece aloud – to a real live human, your dog, or your bathroom mirror.  It’s essential to hear your writing aloud.  You’ll hear what works. You’ll hear what doesn’t work. 

2. If you do read this to a real live human, ask them to tell you a word, phrase, or sentence that stands out to them (this is called SAYBACK ).  Don’t ask for or receive advice about revision or editing.  Just absorb what someone likes about your writing and say, “Thank you very much.”

3.  Select one line you like the best – or one that moves you the most - or one that stands out the most.  (With this writing recipe, it should not be the borrowed first or last line.) I call these golden lines. It’s good to notice what you are already doing well as a writer.  Often, if you get response from a human, your golden lines might be the same! That’s fun and tells you a lot about what readers think is good writing. 

With first line last line poetry, it’s fun to see if your poem makes sense if you remove the borrowed first and last lines. You can also tweak the borrowed lines just a wee bit so they become yours. You’d be surprised how often this little trick works.


Always writing,

Lorrie

P.S. Here’s a companion post I wrote about three criteria for choosing favorite poems.


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