Found Poetry, A Lesson and a Poem All In One :)

Today, ladies and gentlemen, you will get a poem and a lesson plan. 🙂  

Tonight, in Denise Davila’s Multicultural Children’s Literature class, we had a very cool guest speaker, Dr. Lisa Patrick from Ohio State University.  She skyped in tonight to talk to us about literary theory in children’s literature and, specifically, how to use poetry as a teaching tool that can help students better engage with the texts they read.  She talked about Rosenblatt’s Transactional Theory and how to have an aesthetic experience with books.  (If you are a nerd for theory like me, we can chat more about that at a later date).  Her discussion made me want to read Terry Pratchett’s novels, as there’s apparently a fantasy literature class at OSU (which I think would be wicked cool, by the way) in which they use Pratchett’s novels to teach the development of theme. 

On with the lesson: Denise gave us a page out of the novel The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo.  By the way, this is one of my favorite children’s books of all time, and I used to love teaching it to my sixth graders.  They got into it because I loved it so much.  The section we read told about how the Princess Pea, Despereaux’s love interest, had empathy for an “out of the box” character known as Migggery Sow.  

The first objective in a found poetry exercise is to circle words in a passage that stand out to you as a reader, or that you relate to on an aesthetic or personal level.  After reading p. 197-199 of the book, I circled the following words: heart, princess, complicated, shaded, dark, dappled, light, burning coal, darkness, tremendous, sorrow, sadness, dead, dreams, empathy, brave, desperately, kindness, golden stairs, sky, castle 

In true found poetry, the writer is only allowed to use the words that he or she circled.  However, for less advanced poets such as yours truly, it is perfectly acceptable to use these words as a springboard for creating your lines of verse, adding and subtracting additional words and phrases as you deem fit.  After circling words and getting to write in class for about ten minutes, here’s what I came up with.  Now, I’m more of a fiction and nonfiction girl than I am a poet, so please be kind. 🙂  I am learning to love poetry too, though. 

Not Your Typical Princess, by Margaret Robbins (Inspired by Kate DiCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux and the awesome Dr. Lisa Patrick’s Found Poetry activity in the awesome Dr. Dense Davila’s class) 

I am not your typical princess 

from the storybooks. 

My hair is dark, my voice loud.  

My life hasn’t always been a 

climb up the golden stairs. 

At times, it’s been more like 

a dark and twisted staircase, 

foggy with no clear end in sight. 

Yet hope is my light; 

it shines in my heart 

like a burning coal. 


I hope to spread kindness, 

find true love, my eyes to the sky 

and not to the ground. 

I hope the words I write 

will bring light to those 

who know sorrow. 

Hope dapples light into my dreams. 

As a side note: Dr. Lisa Patrick said the rhythm of my poem was so beautiful it made her want to cry, that I’m a poet, and that she wants to be my friend.  She said some of these things to other people in the class who shared their poems aloud, but still, her comments made me feel good.  After a 30 minute skype class session with her, I want to be her friend, too.  Skype can be a real pain sometimes, but because of that, I have a new friend in the academy, along with a great new lesson and a poem that could turn into something if I work on it more.  

If you’re like me and poetry doesn’t come as naturally to you as some kinds of writing, give found poetry a try.  It’ll help you learn to use fewer words more effectively and to better appreciate what you read. 

For more information about found poetry:


Why Should I Have to Wax My Eyebrows Anyway? Some Thoughts on Who Makes the Rules

     Plucking my eyebrows was always painful.  So now, I go to the nail salon about once every two weeks to get my eyebrows waxed instead.  I have to pay a little bit of money to do it, but it’s quick, easy, and relatively painless.  I still remember the first time my high school friend Jen plucked my eyebrows.  She and I are both of either Italian or Eastern European descent (or both), so she had been through the same process.  She iced my forehead first and then went at it, promising that it would be better the next time around.  This was the start of Margaret’s “makeover”, right before I went to college.  She said we needed to bring out my eyes more, and she was right: my blue eyes did stand out more once the eyebrows were plucked.  I was, and still am, happy to clean up the mess that is my bushy eyebrows.

     But, now that I am in a Ph.D. program, I am starting to think about some things differently.  I’ve been reading a lot of articles about the hidden curriculum of schools and even of children’s literature that reinforces the status quo.  We live in a very Western European dominated society here in the United States, and I think this culture influences what people believe, how we behave, and even how we think we should look.  Now, I can’t help noticing that the features of mine that are more Western European are the ones people tend to compliment more frequently, the light blue eyes, the fair skin, the small button nose.  On the other hand, my features that are more Eastern European are the ones people tend to encourage me to tame: the bushy eyebrows, the wild and dark curly hair.  I pluck my eyebrows and used to straighten my curly hair, until I started putting gel in it to tame the frizz because I just didn’t care as much anymore.  Plus, some people close to me told me (and I think rightfully so) that the curly hair better reflected my personality, wild and creative and free.  On a related note, I feel like our society encourages women to be small, both physically and emotionally.  So I always wear skirts and shorts that sufficiently cover my muscular thighs (which are muscular even when I’m my most fit and thin) and try to keep my voice lower and quieter even though I naturally have a voice that carries.  Well, that and I spent time in theater and chorus in high school, where they trained us to project our voices. 

     Now I’m left to wonder, who makes these rules?  Who says I have to have trimmed eyebrows, tame hair, smaller thights, and a quiet voice?  Do we really believe that, or are those values simply imposed upon us by soicety?  I know that what I go through to look mroe physically attractive isn’t nearly as much as what some of my friends feel they must do.  I’ve seen Chris Rock’s documentary Hair, which is yet another form of media or writing that got me thinking about these issues.  I certainly don’t think trying to look or be our best selves is bad, but I also think we should balance that with being happy with what God gave us.  Sometimes, I wonder if many societal values are just mechanisms of control, and we have to push past those to truly see what’s right or what’s wrong.  I certainly don’t have all of the answers yet, but they are questions I’m continuing to ponder. 

Double Standards Exist in Both Directions

“I am not overweight, I fluctuate between ‘chubby’ and ‘curvy’,” says one of my two TV heroes Mindy Lahiri from the Mindy Project, who follows her statement with the guy who calls her fat/overweight with, “I could have sworn you were a bouncer at an Orlando strip club.”
I personally am happy to see a TV show about a curvy girl who fights back. When Kevin’s ex-girlfriend refers to Mindy as “a chubby Indian girl,” she responds by saying that she’s “average American womany”. Then, she ditches the evil Kevin and goes about her way, along which she picks up plenty of other hot dudes, including her cool Christian boyfriend Casey and Seth Rogen, who plays her childhood camp friend grown into a studly military guy. (Don’t we all wish those would come back into our lives and sweep us off our feet. Sigh). It’s inspiring, really. Most female and movie TV stars are either extremely skinny or very overweight. I like seeing one who is more averaged-sized and who doesn’t let people criticize her for it. It’s part of what makes her relatable to me because she’s closer to my size. She’s still successful in her career and has plenty of gentlemen callers, and she tries to stay healthy, but doesn’t completely forbid herself from eating a burrito and having a drink from time to time. People like her because she’s fun, nice, and successful. And let’s face it, when a guy is around her (well, our) size, people don’t have much to say about it. We just get more flack for it because we’re women. But I’m hopeful that the paradigm is starting to shift. There are more cool women on TV who are a more average or even a heavier size. I know people hate on Glee a lot, but I like how Tina is a more average size and Mercedes is heavier, but still learns to see herself as attractive. Kat Dennings from Two Broke Girls is very healthy looking, but also very busty and doesn’t resemble an out of proportion barbie doll. So, there are reassurances. I’d be lying if I said I still didn’t sometimes look more like Twiggy, but women like these stars inspire me to try to be healthy, but not overly obsessive.
In all fairness, I think double standards exist for men too. I have several male friends who are either teachers or in more creative professions and have really cool jobs, but don’t necessarily make a lot of money who feel embarassed to share their professions with potential dates. To me, that’s just sad. I used to teach at a diverse, more urban middle school, and honestly, some of the teachers who seemed to impact the kids the most were males. I think kids need strong male role models and that men should be proud to say they’re teachers. I really wish my grandfather (John Thomas Ruffing) had been in my life when I was growing up because he was very much like me, and he would have been a good role model for me. He’s a prime example of someone who gave up a career he was passionate about and good at to make more money. He was a newspaper writer for the Miami Herald and the Associated Press, and he was a talented writer. But, he eventually became a Stock Broker because he knew he would make more money at it. He was good at it, apparently, but I don’t think he enjoyed it nearly as much as he enjoyed writing. I just don’t think it’s fair that men (more so than women) get pressured into fields that aren’t really right for them and get stuck there just because they’re trying to be the “man” and to make more money. We need more male artists and nurterers in the world,and men should be able to be that (or whatever else they really want to be), just like we as women shouldn’t be afraid to speak up when we’re hungry because we’re afraid someone would think, “why does she want to eat, she already weights enough.”
Yes, I know that men tend to be drawn toward conventionally attractive women and women tend to be drawn toward men who will be good providers. Or, said more bluntly, men like hot girls and women like men who have “bank,” or who are rich and powerful. Maybe that’s why some rich and powerful men and some unusually beautiful women just aren’t pleasant people, because they know they can get what they want in life. I know some of this is primal, but isn’t part of being human the ability to reason and to see beyond our primal instincts and reactions? I’m certainly not saying that women should eat McDonald’s every day and that men should be content to work at McDonalds every day for the rest of their lives. Show some self-respect, and take some initiative to eat better and to work an interesting job. I’m just saying that I think men and women both need to rethink their definitions of attractive. When it’s all said and done, do you want the person who is arm candy at a party and can buy you an expensive car, or the one who will pet a stranger’s dog and cheer you up when you’ve had a bad day? I know I’m not always perfect in this area of my life either, but it gives us all something to think about.