Poetry of Small Moments

Tupelo Teen Writing Center

Fall 2022

Poetry of Small Moments

Shawna Ervin

Class Description:

Many notable poems expertly distill large concepts like racism, sexism, and equal rights into language that drive change. However, in a world where we are regularly processing influential and traumatic events, we may overlook or dismiss writing poems about small moments. Even in the current era, nothing is too trivial for poetry. Poetry about small moments can be just as powerful as poems that tackle difficult subjects. Poems about small moments may offer essential respite or allow readers a glimpse of a part of the world they have overlooked. 

This class will look at a variety of moments that might easily be dismissed such as daydreaming during an academic lecture, peeling an onion, sitting in a waiting room, observing an insect, or standing at a bus stop. We will use poems each week as teachers and look at how the writers captured small moments using various techniques including personification, metaphor, vivid sensory details, and stanzas that help show a moment. 

This is primarily a generative class. Each week I will offer prompts to help you write about your own small moments and then will allow time for you to share your poems in the larger group and in breakout rooms. If you would like, you may work on a poem and bring it back toward the end of the six weeks for feedback. I will offer a sign-up sheet the first week for those interested. 

I am invested in creating and maintaining a safe space for all teen writers regardless of any of their identities. I ask that everyone listen and respond in a way that respects and honors each poet and their work.

Week One: What is a Small Moment?

Poems: “Small Moment” by Cornelius Eady, “300 Goats” by Naomi Shihab Nye, and “Question Arising While Listening to a Lecture on the Nature of Metaphor” by Rick Barot

Prompts: Using “Small Moment” as inspiration, write about a small moment you had this week. Include the date and weather.  Write about a moment you had in school when your thoughts got away from the topic. See if you can both follow your stream-of-consciousness thoughts and contain them so the associations feel intuitive.

Week Two: Small Moments with Food

Poems: “Ode to the Onion” by Pablo Neruda, “To a Head of Lettuce” by Amy Gerstler, and “The Taco Boat” by Al Ortolani

Prompts: Write about a fruit or vegetable. Use personification or address the fruit or vegetable like Gerstler did. Write about a moment when you enjoyed a meal that wouldn’t typically be considered fancy or amazing.

Week Three: Small Moments in Nature

Poems: “A Green Crab’s Shell” by Mark Doty, “Winter Moon” by Langston Hughes, and “Listening to the White-Throated Sparrow” by Jim Peterson

Prompts: Write about observing an insect. Use as many sensory details as possible. Play with stanza and lines to show the movement of the insect. Write a short poem, maybe as short as a Haiku, about an element of nature. OR Write a poem that centers on one sense (not sight) like sound in “Listening to the White-Throated Sparrow.”

Week Four: Small Moments in our Daily Routines

Poems: “Daybreak” by Bert Meyers, “Kata: Bus Stop” by Forrest Gander, and “Ordinary Life” by Barbara Crooker

Prompts: Write a poem about a part of your day that seems mundane and ordinary. Use as many metaphors as you can. Write a poem that begins with Crooker’s first line: “This was a day when nothing happened,” OR  Write a poem that is a reflection of itself like Forrest Gander’s. Focus on one small moment.

Week Five: Small Moments in Ordinary Places

Poems: “Waiting Room” by Elizabeth Bishop, “Sky” by Maggie Smith, and “Birmingham” by Louis MacNiece”

Prompts: Write a poem about a place you go often (school cafeteria, a classroom, waiting room) where you would most likely not think about writing a poem. Write a poem about that place. Write about how you take up space in a place you go often. Write about small moments/places within a larger place like your city or town. What small moments make that city/town unique?

Week Six: Small Moments with People

Poems: “The Epistemology of Cheerios” by Geffrey Davis, “For the Boy Standing Under the Drainpipe,” by Cheryl Savageau, and “NJ Transit Passenger Ode” by Khadijah Queen

Prompts: Write about observing someone close to you or a stranger. What do they do? What are they wearing? Use your powers of description to slow the moment down and draw the reader close to both the person and moment.  Write about people watching and what you notice about people, and where that takes your thoughts.