4th grade poets plus brother (left to right) Vivian Bailey, Elliot Gillespie, Jagger Barrington, Aiden Goeschl, Jordan Zewede, Ethan Christensen, Duncan Gillespie top left.
At Large in Ballard: If Chickens Dreamed
By Peggy Sturdivant
Sometimes the hardest part of writing my column each week is imagining the subject reading it. This was a particularly difficult week as I pictured the six 4th graders facing me on a couch, and one particularly protective younger brother. “Are we going to be in the paper?” they asked.
“Yes,” I replied, then was forced to respond that no I wasn’t writing for The Stranger or The New York Times.
“The Ballard Times?” one asked, looking dubious. “Does it get thrown on our porch?”
Being an audience member for the Saturday afternoon poetry reading at Miro Tea was easier than trying to answer their questions.
The six 4th graders had just finished their poetry reading, not once but twice, in response to audience request. The first reading had been lovely but hard to hear over a sudden rush at Miro coupled with an unfamiliar microphone. I’ve heard you need to hear a poem twice before you can really appreciate it, and that’s especially true of young voices reading their work for the first time.
Local writer/teacher and Adams Elementary School parent Marc Barrington had donated a Poetry writing workshop to the annual Adams auction. Several parents purchased the item, such that six students worked with Barrington on two Saturdays and then presented their poems to an audience of parents, schoolmates and sundry adults (like me). They learned about place poems, reading the works of both child and adult published poets. They were inspired by Joe Brainard’s “I Remember” and followed an acrostic in which the first letters of different lines spell a word. Growing up in Ballard was one of the themes, so the lines spilled sideways from B-A-L-L-A-R-D itself.
The owners of Miro Tea, who are also neighbors of Barrington, offered the use of the space for the reading just as generously as some years ago they offered the location as a meeting place (with $100 credit) to the Steering Committee working to get the Ballard Bell to ring again.
The bell chimed in seeming approval at four p.m.
Then I faced twelve eyes in beautiful young faces. I hadn’t expected the readers to be mostly boys; my stereotype of 4th grader writers had been incorrect. “What did you enjoy more, the writing or the reading?” I asked.
Unanimous response. “The writing.”
“Do you want to keep writing poems?”
That was the extent of my ability to interview the young poets, with crepes waiting on the tables and some children already on the loose outside. Vivian Bailey wrote in Chicken Dreams, “Chickens don’t have big brains, to think about stuff…like what it’s like to be a five-piece meal at KFC.”
Ethan Christensen wrote about popsicles, but also what he already remembers fondly. “I remember my birthday. I remember my sister’s favorite color is pink. I remember going to Webster Park.”
Elliot Gillespie made one of his subjects a love of lacrosse, helping me see it in a more lyrical way. His refrain was, “To check/to be checked/to fall/and get up.”
Aiden Goeschl touched on the heart of friendship; a sleepover, the death of his friend’s dog, but also in terms of favorite memories, “I remember the beckoning smell of churros.” His acrostic “Poems” reads: "People who think/On paper so/Everyone can see their/Mature thoughts/Somehow.
Tagger Barrington wondered more about the dreams of backyard chickens, concluding, “But mostly I think/chickens dream about dust.”
Jordan Zewede turned an acrostic about Ballard into a sort of ode: Adoration for the school, Admiration, and Respect for diversity. She closed with D, for “Dancing I want to do every time I think about Ballard.”
The audience was appreciative; everyone there for the 4th graders’ poetry reading was more than satisfied. The words were almost secondary to watching the faces of young people being listened to, and acknowledged for sharing their words. After the reading they were relieved, yet willing to do more events. In the meantime it was still Saturday afternoon. They needed to go out to the sidewalk across from the Ballard Bell, eat their chocolate crepe, live new moments that they might or might not remember later on.
If they do read this column, once they’ve stopping searching for coverage in The Stranger, I have a message for those Adams Elementary students. Keep writing. Keep doing readings. Keep dancing.
Contact Peggy firstname.lastname@example.org.