National Writing Project

Becoming (a poem)

By: Jennifer Janes
Publication: The Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 2
Date: Spring 2003

Summary: A poem by Jennifer Janes.


Dear Editors,

As a reader of The Voice and The Quarterly, I know you don't normally publish poetry. However, I feel compelled to submit this poem because it illustrates the spirit of the National Writing Project at work in the teacher-consultant's classroom.

"Becoming" is also the story of my first year of teaching. I had just gone through the East Texas Writing Project when I started teaching, and I don't believe I would have made it through that year without the knowledge and ongoing support I gained through the writing project from both the other teacher-consultants and the director at the time, Charles Mazer. That first year, I worked in an "at-risk" school, teaching fourth grade language arts. The majority of my students experienced crime, poverty, and hunger daily. In their homes, survival was more important than exposure to books and print media. That school year was a time of growth for all of us.

In April of 1997, my principal sent me to a poetry reading at the local university. Naomi Shihab Nye encouraged all of us to write—three sentences a day. I left that reading knowing that "three sentences" was a metaphor for the entire school year. I wrote this poem to record the moment.

Jennifer Janes


to Naomi Shihab Nye and in memory of Charles Mazer

A writer once told me
Write three sentences a day
To become more alert,
A better user of words.
I began, and wanted to help
My students begin
To become.

I used all my words for all my ideas and wrote—
three sentences a day.
I started becoming.

And my students—already alert—looked at me
With shiny eyes and upturned faces,
Eagerly drinking in life with greedy gulps.
And I said, Write three sentences a day
To become
A better user of words.

And all the ideas came rushing at me from the depths
Of their dark eyes,
But they had no words.

Nine long months we worked.
We read, we talked.
We learned words.
And we wrote—
Three sentences a day.

Now we all have power
To become.

About the Author Jennifer Janes is a teacher-consultant with the East Texas Writing Project. Currently, she is working as an artist in residence, bringing creative writing and poetry workshops to the schools for the local arts and humanities council in Texarkana, Arkansas.

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