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Learning Activity

Praise to the Small

 

Art Forms
Poetry, Draw/Paint
Multi-Disciplines
Art, Science, Language, Social Studies
Grade levels
2-8
Time
one hour

Background

Praising has been crucial to the human mind and to poetry for as long as both have existed. Praise is central to many kinds of poems, such as the love poem, or poems of religious ecstasy, or poems celebrating the diversity and wonder of the natural world.

But in any community, some members get more press than others who are equally deserving.

• It is easy to praise the grace of a deer, but where are the praises of humble Earthworm, and where the thank you to Ladybug?
• Where is the praise to Mosquito for teaching us humility.
• Where is the praise to treefrog for sticking to our windows and sparkling our eyes?

The Activity

Students are asked to write a poem of praise, using a repeated pattern for rhythm.
The subject is any small or insignificant members of the students’ local ecological community.
It is important that the community members praised be local. It is as easy to ignore the less visible members of an ecosystem as it is to ignore some kids in a classroom.

Discuss: What is small?

• Small can mean physically small—but personally significant through beauty or intricacy
• Small can be small things which trigger the writer’s memory or affections:
• Small can mean humble, overlooked, everyday, lowly:

• earthworms, ants, pond life

• Small can also mean “brief.” Moments which are significant, important to the writer.
• Here the attempt is to present—through image and description, through narrative—the essence of a moment, a few seconds of the writer’s experience.

• Or present a series of images of brief importance:

• Praise to the glow of candles on the child’s puffed cheek …

Technique

• Attempt to describe each thing praised by making it available to the reader’s senses: how it looks is crucial, but also its other sensory aspects: texture, sound, taste/smell as appropriate.


The objects should be presented to the reader’s senses in such a way that the reader is convinced that these things are worthy of praise.

By filtering the objects through the writer’s sense of importance, these objects can be made fresh for the reader, are re-imagined by the reader.


Diction, Word Choices: not fancy, poetic, elevated, grand—because these are small things— but definitely more formal than speech.


Shape or Form :The poem is most likely to be a list of several things praised. They may be apparently unconnected things, and by writing the writer discovers their connections, or they may be related things.

• But it also may turn out to be praise of various aspects of one special subject. Depends on the writer.


Rhythm

• Use a repeating pattern of words to create rhythm. This will allow the writer to step into the ancient stream of praise. Praise is a kind of singing, and a kind of poem in which the rhythm is likely to be central to the effect. Say the Source Sheet poems aloud to feel the rhythms on your tongue.

 


Borrow or Invent a Pattern to Repeat

Try First and Second Line Combinations:


I praise …
For its________

Praise to …
Without which________

• I will praise …
Which___________

Or use a repeated single line pattern:


• I sing praise of …
• Hear my praise of …(imperative voice)
• All praise to …
• ___(Raindrops)_ I praise,
For _________________
• I celebrate …
• Honor the …


Say something you’ve never heard before:

Praise to sounds.
Praise to the caw of the crow,
Praise to the leg-thump of the dreaming dog,
Praise to the catpurr through your chest in the night


Have a little fun:


All praise to the mosquito,
Who saves us from our self-importance,
All praise to the scold of the bluejay,
Who saves us from ego inflation.

Praise the most ordinary gifts of the earth:

Raindrops I praise:
the raindrops I catch on my tongue
the fat first raindrops on a dusty hot day

Find a word or rhythm pattern and stick with it:

The gold I praise
in the eye of the toad,
The tremble I praise
in the throat of the frog

Variations

• Precede this Activity with a Journal assignment to find and sketch some small local Community members. They might be small or inconspicuous plants as well as animal life of any sort.

• Have kids explore good topsoil with magnifiers, or the undersides of pond leaves.

• Give kids in pairs the assignment to find and point out to their partner some small beauties—the iridescent green of a beetle, a tiny shell, the faceted gleam of an insect eye.

• Draw and/or paint the small members that you praise in writing.

 

Student Source Sheet: Praise to the Small

PRAISE TO THE PATTERN

Praise to the twitch
of the whiskers of rabbits,
Praise to the puffy clouds
to find shapes within,
Praise to the grassy hill
to roll swiftly down,
Praise to the ocean-salty shell
on the sandy beach,
Praise to the sunset
that glows in the evening,
Praise to the glow
of a firefly’s end,
Praise to the detail,
the pattern of
All the small things
our eyes overlook.

—Sarah Schmitz, gr 4

FLETCH, MY CAT

Praise to the cat meowing,
Praise to the soft fur that cuddles,
Praise to her eyes that gleam in the night,
Praise to the soft paws she has,
Praise to this cat for sleeping beside me,
Praise to this cat for hissing at strangers,
Praise to this cat’s tail that has a little kink,
Praise to his tongue that likes to lick cheeks.

—Kala Hanson, 3


PRAISE TO THE WINGED

Praise to the glide of an eagle,
and the bat who flies in the night,
Praise to the robin who whistles in evening,
and bluejays who scold whenever they want,
Praise to the raven whose wing is so black,
and praise to the soaring of gulls.

—Lane Elmer, 3

Praise to the agate
that fits in my pocket,
Praise to the hair
kept closed in my locket,
Praise to the sand
that goes out with the tide,
Praise the great feeling
that lurks deep inside

— Susan Woehrle, 5