The Delight Song of Tsaoi-talee

momadayThis week in class we read N. Scott Momaday’s “The Delight Song of Tsoai-talee.” I asked my students to use Momaday’s structure to do an imitation poem. Thus, all lines in the longer first stanza started with the metaphor-driving words “I am…” and all lines (except for first and last, which we used verbatim) in the second stanza started with the words “I stand in good relation to….”

As a less-intimidating model, I composed my own imitation poem on the SmartBoard. I also showed them a little revision practice on the whiteboard by writing the rather prosaic line “I am the frost on the grass.” I improved it a bit by changing it to “I am the frost on the morning grass,” but we had already done a lesson on distrusting adjectives — especially if they would come readily to the mind of readers, given the nouns they modify — and students allowed that frost on grass is most associated with the morning.

For revision the third, I wrote “I am the crystal on the first frost of November grass.” Still imperfect, but definitely becoming more specific and subtle — similar to the insights Momaday uses to show his intimacy with nature.

The first drafts produced in 18 minutes or so were remarkable. I had the students do a read-around with their groups and choose a favorite from each group to be shared with the class. As is the case with all the work in their portfolio, they may eventually select this for additional work in the “choice paper” category.

As for my model, it has given me a little grist for the poetic mill, which is trying to restart its wheel after the air suckage caused by school’s sudden return. If I can pound out a new poem now, especially on the heels of my biggest sale in poetry-hawking yet, it will do wonders for my mood.

It would also be a delight worthy of song.


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