One of my favorite contemporary artists is Mary Englebreit, and one of my favorite pieces of art by her illustrates the thought “To be happy, don’t do whatever you like; like whatever you do!” I’d like to think that one of my life mottos. But while I try to like whatever I do, at times—especially when I feel burdened by a pile of essays written by my teenage students—I don’t. Sometimes I feel unhappy about grading essays because it takes what I don’t seem to have—time. Sometimes I feel unhappy grading them because I get the (likely true) sense that I am spending more time on their writings than they are.
But the last writing assignment made it easy to like what I do. Mostly. (See disclaimer at the end.)
My English students have been working their way through Edmund Spenser’s Book 1 of The Faerie Queene—a very worthy read but definitely work. To help them appreciate the talent he demonstrated in writing this epic poem, I simply had them mimic one stanza. While they could choose any topic they wished, I did require my students to perfectly mimic Spenser’s stanza structure—including the rhythm and rhyme scheme. To help them understand what I meant, I gave them both a Spenserian stanza and a Dagenian (that’s me) stanza mimicking Spenser with the rhyme pattern color-coded and the rhythm emphasized.
The Spenserian stanza explained:
My version of a Spenserian stanza (based on the book of Job, which we had just completed reading before attempting Spenser):
What I got from my students on this assignment made it quite easy to enjoy whatever I do:
Forest Gump (by Jenny)
“I love you, Jennay” is often gotten
When I am simply asked for my name.
Rest sure, Forest Gump won’t be forgotten
For every response is always the same
This is my one and only claim to fame
But I just laugh because it’s all good fun
Until I see someone quick as a flame
Then I decide to yell, “Run, Forest, run!”
This is what I will do until my life is done.
(original title and much better poem by Daniel)
There is a dire something laid in my path,
An almost sentient thing of power.
This entity goes by the name of math,
And it wears my saneness thin hour by hour.
I must do it, yet it seems so very dour.
They say that upon it my life depends.
It feels like climbing an endless tower.
Yes, mathematics never seems to end.
This looming presence my being threatens to rend.
Deception (by Danny)
Deception is a wicked kind of beast.
Blind souls cling to the hope it can provide,
All too unaware that they are the feast
Feeding the ravenous hunger inside.
It consumes each thing that adds to its pride,
And masquerades as a giver of joy.
But vicious intentions do indeed hide,
Waiting to swallow what it will destroy,
Among us it will grown; forever a decoy.
Strayed (by Jessica)
There she stands, wondering and asking why
As if she wasn’t told what then to do.
To struggle to be perfect, dare she try?
She hasn’t succeeded, will she dare to?
Created for a purpose, that is true;
But can she remember why she is here?
She struggles to recall, recalling few.
She strayed from her purpose, building a weir;
Between God and his church stands division from fear.
Loved (by Ellie)
You are loved lots more than you imagined,
Loved more than these motions that you go through.
Your freckles aren’t something that just happened,
And I think you are someone to pursue.
Christ believed that when suffering for you.
And although we’re often rude and bitter,
Thankfully we’re not loved for things we do.
Our souls have been made lovely, even glitter
Christ chose you for the church, and paid all to get her.
Loneliness (by Andrew)
There once lived a man who was all alone
He lived in an old apartment downtown
The sad man had no one to call his own
Swallowed by despair, he knew he would drown
He felt that the world was beating him down
While he wasted away in shattered thought,
The man remembered something he had known
It was love, the answer he long forgot.
God did what that man could not, gave him what he sought.
Boss Man (by Jack)
That man named Jesus came to Mother Earth
That Jesus was and is and is to come
His goal the same all the way from his birth
And out the virgin’s womb he did come from
He did not sin at all, not even some
He came to die upon that wooden cross
They thought him gone, those men were very dumb
For he had warned them of their mighty loss
But Jesus came back on the third day like a boss.
I hope that you enjoyed reading some of my students’ work—and agree with me that this was an easy assignment to like! My disclaimer is that I have 45 students in my English classes, and I chose what I believed followed the rhythm and rhyme (and instructions) best within an inventive or touching story. Not all were as fabulous as those included here. This assignment—though my students found it more difficult than they imagined when first assigned nine lines of text—was infinitely faster to grade than the usual 500-700 word essays.
But in its difficulty, this assignment to mimic the author gave my students a greater appreciation of the artistry involved in writing a poem of epic proportions, as did Spenser. (I’m not sure it made them more inclined to read it, however.) To be fair, I thought—though no teacher is requiring me to mimic Mary Englebreit’s artistry—I would try my hand at mimicking at least her idea present in “To be happy don’t do whatever you like; like whatever you do!”
I think I better stick to writing.