The Writing Process, Part 4: Sensory Details

hailstonesI was about 23, teaching 5th grade in a diverse Philadelphia public school. Hailstones and Halibut Bones, the beautiful book of color poetry that inspires kids out of mediocre writing, sparked lovely poems in my own students. (It is the most recent edition that offers vibrant pictures). The contagious delight the kids took playing with words that detailed everyday sensory experiences prompted a color poem out of their teacher too. It was a special experience for us to write together.

Once the brainstorm page filled up, the poems wrote themselves. We divided a sheet of paper into six rows, each representing a physical sense with the addition of one for emotions (Sight, Hearing, Touch, Taste, Smell, Feeling). Then simply named observations and experiences in their category.  White: cotton candy for taste, blank coloring page for touch, chocolate for taste. Writers young and old will hear “show, not tell” or “paint a picture,” but may not quite know how to go about it. Sensory details paint clear verbal pictures, not unlike a 3-D presentation that appears to move toward the reader. They serve as a powerful writing tool for the grade school student as well as the blogger and the author on his fourth novel.

Here is the poem I wrote alongside my students that I’d completely forgotten about. I tried to keep it on the simple side so it’d be relatable for them. Feeling sheepish. I’d love to revise but share it to offer a glimpse of something born in happy league with little writers. Note the progression of a lifetime within the poem:

 


Time

White is
baby powder,
cotton candy
from the “Candy!” shouter,
eager page of a coloring book,
a glob of frosting some finger took,
childhood paste,
little league socks,
the vanilla taste,
background of polka dots,
a special chocolate to crave,
ivory pearls that swim cream waves,
a careful prom dress,
marble sheet on a winter lake,
the bride in grace,
a queenly wedding cake.
A piano key, white
plays a note of simplicity.
White is romance heaven-blessed.
It is the color of promise
and rest.
A dependable soul,
behind every color hides
a white shadow.
White hair is
humanity’s confession –
in age less the color of a question –
“Strength is gossamer,
time but a loan,”
white is the color
of home.

15 thoughts on “The Writing Process, Part 4: Sensory Details

  1. Tell me about it: oh, back to the simple days! At six, my boy still delights in the most mundane pleasures, silly faces, CHASE. Leaves me hopeful that he won’t outgrow me too fast. At least writing transports us back…. =) The images I reexplored reversed time for a moment – at least, for me.

  2. Thanks for the book lead; I ordered it from the library for my kids. Looks perfect for summer with all its joyful sensory opportunities!

  3. My favorite line from your post: (not counting the poem–nice, vivid images): “Once the brainstorm page filled up, the poems wrote themselves.” I always enjoyed diving into writing with my students especially when standards and prescription weren’t the order of the day,

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