What If the Mightiest Word is Love?

website-photoHRBy WITS Writer Harriet Riley

For the last few years, I’ve used a powerful tool called The Matrix during one of my first writing classes with students of all ages. This came from a workshop Community Word Project of New York provided for WITS writers a few years ago. This tool allows students to create new ways of using language and encourages them to “think outside the box” in different ways.After briefly discussing the structure of a poem, I read my students “Praise Song for the Day,” Elizabeth Alexander’s beautiful poem written for Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration. The poem asks, “What if the mightiest word is love?” First, we have a group “word storm” coming up with words relating to love, texture words and action words. Then, students use their “matrix” (a sheet with a large box with 12 squares inside) to randomly write down two texture words, five words they like the sound of and five words they like the meaning of. They are then instructed to transform words from their matrix into a poetic sentence. I read them guidelines, but the most important is to combine word pairs to create new and different meanings. 

The students each create one poetic sentence and then work with the other students at their table or grouping to combine their lines into stanzas. Then each group performs their stanza to create one combined class poem on love. I videotape their performance and share it with them at the next class.

Here are some of the amazing lines the students created:

Love is peace flowing in the air.
Love is freedom; it will run down a road of fire and reach your sweet heart.
Love is like a diamond in a firework sky.
Love is a courageous intelligent sparkle in my sister’s eye.

Love indeed becomes a life-enhancing proclamation when students try combining words in unusual ways.

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