Heroes of the Heart In Poetry

There were 21 children in the room ranging in age from 1 ½ to 64 ½.  The youngest left early to take a nap. The oldest took a nap afterwards, her dreams filled with heroes held in many hearts.

Some in the group did not know each other, so we began by standing in a circle and holding hands. The leader, Trish Alley, showed everyone how we would put our names inside the circle. After saying “Trish,” she squeezed the left hand of the person to her right, and then that person said her name. All our names were placed in the circle by passing the squeeze around its perimeter. This was the first step in creating a safe space to explore the heroes we hold in our hearts and to maybe share them in pictures and in words.

We settled into chairs at tables in a “U”, and Trish sat in the rocking chair at the top of the “U.” It was the poetry chair. She read poems written by children, some from Greensboro on a different day, some from far away. The children listened for “heart words” in the poems. Some kids listed their heart words on paper; some recorded them in their minds.

Then Tara was our scribe, and we made a group list of words we heard as heart words. The children had listened very well. The list was long. We added some words not yet heard out loud.  These words would be clues to finding the heroes in our hearts.

Sometimes we write poetry because we don’t have the words to say what we know, especially when we feel it in our hearts. Trish gave the group a list of feelings that also might lead us to our heroes of the heart.  There was a list of “Comfortable Feelings” and one of “Uncomfortable Feelings.” None of the feelings are good or bad. They can all live in and be treasured in our hearts in their own ways.

It is summertime, so Trish assured everyone there would be no tests, no poetry rules, and no thinking that one poem is better than another. There are two tools poets often use that can be fun to play with if we want. She talked about similes and metaphors and how they can be invited into a poem or show up all on their own. There is magic in poems from the heart.

Some people see pictures before they find words, so Trish introduced Heart Mapping. This activity was inspired by Georgia Heard’s book, Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School, with a foreword by Naomi Shihab Nye. The children are encouraged to draw, with or without words, the things they care deeply about. Our project was adapted for this group to fit the Library’s 2015 Summer Reading Theme of “Heroes.”

Trish summoned her courage (which lives in her heart) and went first. She brought her Heroic Heart Map and shared it with the group. Her heart holds a teacher, a childhood caregiver, her dog, her husband, and her three co-workers (friends) in it. (No superheroes.) She had pictures of them and short poems for each. There were also pictures of some objects that reminded her of the larger stories that are hidden in the poems. Now it was the children’s turn.

Each child had a large heart template to accommodate their heroes, and we had a wide array of thin-tipped colored markers. Some children went right to work, others were shy with their hearts—or with their mothers—or about their ideas of what they “should” be doing. Questions began to pop up. Did everything have to fit inside the heart? No. Lots of people have overflowing hearts. Did everyone have to be real? This question was clarified to mean did everyone have to be alive now?  No.  Memories can live in our hearts for a long time, maybe even forever.

One child was especially eager to share her Heroic Heart Map in progress. She had lots of pictures with word stories printed by her Mom. The adults present were willing to help and were unusually good at asking questions rather than directing their children’s work and play. This particular child is 5, does not yet read, and is an accomplished storyteller. Several other children shared their maps and emerging poems, and others declined. Sharing became easier with time and peer permission, and eventually most children chose to share their work. They were offered the poetry chair for their presentations, and all chose to speak where they were seated around the table.

Who did the children include in their maps? Family members and especially Moms were popular. An Aunt was drawn in a wheelchair. Her niece explained that it was sad when her Aunt died, but it was good that she did not have to suffer. There were lots of dogs in life and in spirit. There was an excavator operated by Dad, which sparked a lot of bragging about what Dads can do. There were lively memories of fun times and sad memories of important losses. We learned that we hold so much in our hearts, and our heroes are all around us.

Our time together came to a close with the arrival of lunch (summer lunch program). The children left energized and eager for their next adventure. Trish spoke briefly with one Mom. It was her first visit to Greensboro. “This,” she said, “will be one of my favorite memories of Greensboro.”

The group consisted of home-schooled children, Summer Family children, one local child who goes to the Lakeview Elementary School, several Moms, Emily Purdy, Children’s Librarian, Trish Alley and Tara Reynolds from WholeHeart, Inc., and a visitor from New York who drew each person in the group in his heart. How cool is that?