WITS Voices: Impossible Journeys
February 14, 2020
By Rachel Kessler, WITS Writer-in-Residence
Where do you want to go that is impossible? Fifth graders at Salish Coast Elementary School in Port Townsend, WA, took this writing prompt and hurtled headlong into potatoes, climbed inside engines, bound themselves to basketballs, and rode guinea pigs into battle. How did they get there?
We began our journeys with closed eyes and open hands. I put a stone in each student’s hand and invited them to quietly observe this object with all their senses except sight. Then, we read Charles Simic’s incantatory poem “Stone”:
Go inside a stone
That would be my way.
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger’s tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.
From the outside the stone is a riddle:
No one knows how to answer it.
Yet within, it must be cool and quiet
Even though a cow steps on it full weight,
Even though a child throws it in a river;
The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed
To the river bottom
Where the fishes come to knock on it
I have seen sparks fly out
When two stones are rubbed,
So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;
Perhaps there is a moon shining
From somewhere, as though behind a hill—
Just enough light to make out
The strange writings, the star-charts
On the inner walls.
Together, we brainstormed things we wanted to go inside of in a poem (but not in real life). Then, we listed impossible actions we might take. Everyone was invited to choose one thing from this brainstorm and write a poem that goes on an impossible journey. I provided a few possible beginnings:
I go inside…
I dive into…
I tunnel into…
I swerve between…
I morph into…I call forth…
I hover above…
What I love about this activity is that it asks writers to just imagine. Kids who did not write at all for the two weeks I was in their classroom found an impossible journey to describe, like Nathan:
into a Tesla engine
oil in my mouth
burnt from the hot engine
As he dictated, his classroom aid asked him questions. What does it smell like? How do you feel? Pierce and Joshua were both reluctant to write, but became inspired by working together on this poem:
I emerge through the basketball.
I fly into the hoop.
I brush past my enemies and inspire
myself to cross over and shoot.
And when I make it I will crawl to the top
and become the person I am meant to be.
After his collaboration with Pierce, Joshua went on to write many more impossible journeys, including these two:
I dive into the rock
inside, forward the rock’s soul
I reach for the dust
I take the path
up and out
into the real world
I twist into
a human again
The Flying Star
The star opens its mouth. I go
inside with treasure
in it and flames bursting
until it is all over and flying
it is time to fly over the world.
Another young poet who rarely writes (and wishes to be completely anonymous) found his muse—a guinea pig:
If I could ride a guinea pig it would be a BLAST
I’d run and jump, twirl and bounce
I’d call my trusty guinea pig, he’d come right to my side
I feel the wind as we ride into a field of soldiers
I’d hear the clang of swords as they fight
A guinea pig could be a pet
but if I had a guinea pig I’d try it everyday!
Andre’s imagination wrestled with his literal logic in his poem, “Potatoes!”
I dive into a potato
I transform into
I roll over to the garden
and shall help by planting poppies yet
I fall in
in a hospital bed.
In her poem, “I Live In Fire,” Kyli quietly embarked on this transcendent journey:
I live in it everyday
swirling stars of light
hit me and I can’t help but watch
it takes me to a place
beautiful where golden and glittering
of the sun take you to the top
it makes my hair flow like slow motion
Silas walks right into lava, writing such vivid sensory details about the effect the temperature has on his body:
I walked into lava
It was warm like a shower, it’s red, yellow and orange
It is bright and dim
I walk out and I’m in ice
It’s not that cold, it’s bright and shiny. I walk out
and it’s night. It’s freezing I need to go back home
Just so tired and cold
I come home with
a mix of lava and ice there both there, inside of me…
Sophia begins her journey in the real world and quickly departs from the laws of physics in her poem “Walking Into a Book of Poems”:
for my book of poems,
I open into it when I suddenly travel between worlds
I burst forth into it leaving my old one behind
I see so many colors and so many ways to go
But I reach toward the one I’m inspired by most
When I get there it felt like I had stopped time
As I floated into the air, I realized I was floating.
As I soared through the air I closed my eyes then opened
them, and there I was back in my room on my bed
In front of me was my book of poems.
Logan, another ten-year-old, explored “Inside My Art”:
No color just black with the grey
Sadness all over them
I dive inside a bundle
of happiness it smells like honey and
full of yellow and blue
But then the sadness
that gets rid of that sweet honey smell
The sadness smells like blank paper,
just emptiness and sadness all over again.
Rachel Kessler explores landscape and community through writing and multi-disciplinary collaboration. Co-founder of Typing Explosion and Vis-à-Vis Society, their book of collaborative poems, 100 Rooms, came out in October 2019. She was recently part of the artist group that opened the collective Wa Na Wari, a center for Black art in the Central District, and is Artist-In-Residence at public housing project, Yesler Terrace.