Different ages, same classroom: poetry collaborations



In the last few months, a plethora of cross-divisional collaborations expanded Moses Brown’s annual visiting poet events, which welcomed former U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine and Rhode Island Poet Laureate Rick Benjamin on May 1. Upper, middle, and lower school students explored Levine’s poems and themes together, wrote original poems and forged new friendships. “Our poetry initiative resonates with Moses Brown’s Quaker philosophy,” says Ransom Griffin, English teacher and project director. “It manifests the interplay of art and science in the pursuit of personal understanding, communal responsibility and the ‘third way,’ the synthesis that may be forged between two opposing extremes, in all human endeavors.”

Tommy Chase, Leiton Kraut (brown-haired little boy), Gerry Gagnon (blond) and Mark BucknamIn February Abby Phyfe’s freshmen worked with her AP seniors to study Philip Levine’s poetry and to write about “the overlooked” as he does.

Crossword by Will ’14

A stocky 23-year-old collapses

onto the couch, crossword in hand, mind

whirring like conveyor belt gears.

He sinks into the cushions and releases

a sigh, expelling the five-day work weeks

that have chipped away his adolescence.

You see an average college guy, chest

chiseled like a weather-beaten

statue, skin tanned like the skin

of your friend who lounged in Florida

over spring break. But the skin of

your cousin, here, was bronzed

in Western Pennsylvania. His muscles

were fleshed out on factory floors, heaving

boxes of glass onto truck after truck that

he watched roll out of town. Your cousin grew

those quarter-sized calluses for his mother, divorced

and unemployed, unable to puzzle out the answer.

Your cousin snatched the steady paycheck,

running in place

while his little brother studied abroad.

Millions of boxes later, he returned to college, though

he lives a half hour away and commutes from home

to save costs. You read his Facebook post,

a straight A transcript, as he declares

“look who’s still got it,” a coyote howl

to the blissfully ignorant world. You watch him

here, an intent surgeon dissecting the

clues, pen tapping with mechanical purpose. But

he stops short at 21-across, frowning. When

you leave he smiles warmly and waves

from the couch, but as you accelerate away

he is staring at the crossword, stuck.


In April, the freshmen helped fourth graders write poems about what we take for granted, considering all they’ve learned from their Kenyan buddies. Here are some from Elizabeth Grumbach’s class.

Conserve Water by Harry

Water keeps us going. If we didn’t have it none of us would be here

I take advantage of water

I get it from a bubbler

It’s amazing

You walk half a mile to get it from a river or well.

Here, it just magically appears

I don’t like that.

Why can’t we conserve water like you?

Same and Different by Sadie

We are different

You walk far to get water under the hot sun

I walk to a sink to get water under a roof

You have some school materials

I have so much I cannot keep track of it all

You help plant, help grow, help harvest your food

I get most of my food at a large store

You feed many animals

I just feed my dog

You live in a warm place

I live in a colder place

But I realize

And I hope you realize too

That we are not that different

We both

Have a home

Have a sister to play with

Have survived 10 long years

Get to go to school

And have

Each other to talk to

Water by Brigid

I’m home from school.

My mom calls

“Fill up a pot of water

for dinner.”

Kenyan buddy home from school.

Her mom calls

“Please get some water

for dinner.”

I go to the sink

Fill up a pot of water

I put the pot

back on the counter

ready for my mom

to put it on the stove.

Kenyan buddy puts shoes

back on.

Walks out the door.

Goes back in to get

big yellow container.

Walks out again.




finally at

the bore hole.


the bucket down




by a string.

Bucket filling,

as heavy

as a rock

Pull it up.




back home

balancing container

on head.

Back at home.

Pouring water into

Putting pot

near open

cooking fire.

We are


but we are


What Does Matter? by Jaden

Education can be many things

a future

a job

a life

It doesn’t matter about the materials

the clothes

the building

their life

What they teach can be unique and wonderful




Where you are

Is a non-mattering factor.

Chebuyusi, Kenya

Providence, Rhode Island

Who you are

Is what matters

The Necessity of One Drop by Casey

A turn for me

Is a pull for you.

What I waste,

You nurture.

A cup from the drawer for me

A bucket down the bore hole for you.

I don’t realize

How much I waste

Until I think of you.

Although we may have differences

We both rely on the necessity of one drop,


Lenke Wood’s juniors worked with Sarah Cussler’s seventh graders, writing cinquains in groups in response to Philip Levine’s poem, “Among Children.” BEST DSC_5563

The Future


March to their work

Through the dim lights of Flint

The city’s blue collars  cloaked by promise

They wait.

The Cycle of Flint or Paradise

It starts

Tearing their wings

Stuck, unable to fly

Men, women, and children of Flint

It ends.



Watches over

The very smart children

Preparing for what is ahead

Wake up!



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