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Lesson Notes: Ekphrastic Poetry



The Veteran in a New Field by Ted Kooser
A lone man scything wheat

His back is turned to us, his white shirt
the brightest thing in the painting.
Old trousers, leather army suspenders.
Before him the red wheat bends,
the sky is cloudless, smokeless, and blue.
Where he has passed, the hot stalks spread
in streaks, like a shell exploding, but that is
behind him.  With stiff, bony shoulders
he mows his way into the colors of summer.

-from Delights & Shadows copyright 2004 by Copper Canyon Press
In our TBG Teens Community (The Hive), we have been reading the poetry of Nebraskan Ted Kooser. An unassuming, elderly gentleman and ex-insurance salesman, Mr. Kooser served as the U.S. Poet Laureate from 2004-2006.  His poetry is a clear, simple delight to read.  (Last semester was Milton - quite the contrast!)

After a few weeks of reading and enjoying his poems, we tried something different. Mr. Kooser wrote a series of poems based on 4 paintings by Winslow Homer. In class, we did a picture study on The Bright Side by Homer and then read Kooser's poem about it.  Then at home, we did a picture study on The Veteran in a New Field. We did NOT read his poem. The students were encouraged to write a poem "in the style of Ted Kooser" based on the picture.  Here is what they came up with:


The Veteran in a New Field

The young veteran cut down more and more of the growing gold
Until a pile, one or two feet high, had gathered behind him.
Satisfied with his work, he sat down with a worn leather-bound canteen
Half full of warm water.
The breeze taking away the hot sun now and then
Ran through the remaining mile or so of wheat,
Creating a soft rustle
That he would have loved to hear a few years ago.
-(13)


The Veteran in a New Field

The sky seems to sit heavily like thick, blue frosting
Smeared on top of a cake of golden stalks.
A man cleanly slices the rich harvest and it falls
In pools through which he wades, knee deep.
He seems steady and his strong hands grip the tool firmly
As beads of sweat form on his neck.
The sun bakes his white back and dark suspenders
And only a small rustle of wind stirs the wheat,
Barely enough to tip a feather off a table.
- (15)



The Veteran in a New Field
Waves of gold roll along
The valley as the seasoned warrior
 Sweats under a burning eye
 From the heavens which gives
 life to all around him.
  -(17)


After they took a few days to craft their poems, I read Mr. Kooser's. I think the students did a great job! Ekphrastic poetry (poetry written in response to another piece of art) is really interesting and rich, allowing you to hear the poet's "narration" and inner imaginings of a painting. And no, we did not use the word "ekphrastic" in class.  I just was looking into it and found that this sort of poetry had a name. I will share that with the students.

Teaching from Peace,
Nancy

P.S. - If you haven't heard about the MET's new, free resource of 400,000 images, click here!

P.P.S. - Sign up now for my immersion on March 18th! Charlotte Mason Experience in MN


The Veteran in a New Field by Winslow Homer

12 comments:

  1. What a great idea! And such beautiful poems as a result!

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  2. Deeply touched by your students' poems. They did wonderfully thoughtful work!

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    1. They touched me, too. Always trying to keep things thoughtful!
      Warmly,
      Nancy

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  3. How absolutely delightful! :-) What a great idea to find a local poet to look closely at...a good idea for me in our group.

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    1. Thanks, Amy! He's not really local but we do hope to meet him someday soon!
      Teaching from Peace,
      Nancy

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  4. Love the serenity of the whole idea! Hello Friend...miss you!

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    1. Miss you, too! Let's talk this week and catch up!
      Warmly,
      Nancy

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  5. The students DID do an amazing job! I loved seeing their work!

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    1. Dear Claudia,
      Thank you, Claudia! If it helps others, I love sharing it.
      Warmly,
      Nancy

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  6. I do this alot. Students beg to write poems to art pieces. We did Ted Kooser today in a different way but not with art, although Van Gogh's last painting reminded me of Spring Plowing. I am using his book " The Poetry Home Repair Manual" and some things for writing from The Wheeling Year.We watched his video on his website that refers to his poem Spring Plowing.

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