Poet Constance Levy visits Schechter class

BY JILL KASSANDER, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Virginia Horowitz was all ready to convince her eighth grade language arts class how much fun they were going to have with their new poetry unit. She asked her students to raise their hands if they liked poetry and was stunned by their response.

“They all raised their hands,” Horowitz said.

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Then students Aaron, Adam and Benjamin Levy told Horowitz their grandmother writes poetry. Horowitz was delighted to discover their grandmother is well-known children’s poet Constance Levy. She has published several book of poetry and won the 2003 Lee Bennett Hopkins Award for her book, Splash!: Poems of Our Watery World.

Horowitz was thrilled when Constance Levy agreed to visit the students and “have a conversation” about poetry.

“Poetry is a great opportunity to play and be serious at the same time,” Constance Levy said.

Student Noam Kantor asked Levy where she gets her inspiration.

“The truth is, if I waited to get an inspiration I wouldn’t write,” Levy said.

Things always happen but she may not write about it right away, she explained. She encouraged the students to always keep a pen or pencil and paper on hand since “you never know when an idea may come to you.” For instance, she said, she was inspired by the Presidential Inauguration that had occurred earlier in the day but she was not ready to write about it yet.

“Poetry teaches you to become more observant,” Levy said. “I don’t go looking for things to write about. I have trained my mind to look without looking – observe what’s around me.”

Levy said she had always known she wanted to write. Sometimes she starts a poem and can’t seem to find the words. Then she puts the work away and revisits it later.

“It is all about revision and finding just the right words,” she told the students. “I work hard to make it seem like I didn’t work at all.”

She shared two of her favorite poems from different authors. One of the poems about cockroaches elicited a collective groan from the class.

“I am thrilled to hear you groaning,” Levy said. “You will always remember this poem.”

Levy shared how much fun it is to write poetry. She talked about all the things she was hoarding in her brain and how they come back to her as she starts to write. The students learned about using metaphors, images and words in different surprising ways.

“You can write about anything,” Levy said, challenging the students to come up with one line about an egg.

The students were slow to warm up and contribute but as they went around the table the ideas started to pour forth.

“Poetry lets you see more about what you are writing about,” Levy said. “Look at the shape of the words and the look of a poem on a page: it is part of what makes the poem. Poems stay with you. So if you have to memorize a poem, make it a good one because it will always be there.”

The students were still talking about Levy’s visit the next day.

“Her visit made the lesson come alive for them,” Horowitz said. “She helped them see poetry is magic.”