Magical Poetry Workshop

Brief outline for half-day poetry workshop. Grab your wands…pens, and join us for some magical poetry!

Brief outline for half-day poetry workshop. As with any lesson plan, feel free to modify as needed to fit your intended audience. So grab your wands…pens, and join us for some magical poetry!

Writing Genre

Poetry

Age group

Middle School

Workshop Activities

Reading models, structured exercises, editing/revision period, and group readings

Supplies and Materials

Printed handouts, paper, pencils, pens, markers/colored pencils, stage

Objectives

Students walk away inspired by the extraordinary and able to define magical realism and fantasy. Students are also encouraged to incorporate magic or fantasy elements into their poems as metaphors for real life experiences.

Group discussion

What do we like about magic or fantasy?

  • What do you specifically like about your favorite fairy tale/fantasy story?
  • What types of magical elements do you think are cool?
  • How do you feel after reading/watching a story with magical elements?

Difference between Magical Realism and Fantasy

  • Magical realism = a realistic view of the modern world while also adding magical elements.
  • Fantasy =  fiction set in a fictional universe, often without any locations, events, or people referencing the real world.

Exercises

The Witch Wife or Belief in Magic

  • Read the poem out loud and discuss how it embodies every day acts (making dinner, gardening,) and makes them magical
  • Class will brainstorm 2-3 everyday tasks and then students will write a poem that turns that every day task into something magical
  • If students are stuck, encourage them to break down the everyday task into steps and write about each step as if it were extraordinary. E.g., tying your shoes. These long sleek snakes that tangle themselves around a bow.

Fairy Tale Logic

  • Read the poem out loud and discuss how it uses classic Fairy Tale elements to highlight real struggles.
    • Point out that it’s in Sonnet form
  • Students will choose a fairytale/fantasy story (can be the one they said at the beginning of the class or a different one) and write a list of the magical elements
    • E.g., Beauty and the Beast. Rose, talking candlestick, beast, enchantress, magic mirror, etc.
  • Once we have our list of elements, on the other side of the page brainstorm some problems from everyday life
    • E.g., bullies, trouble with homework, getting lost, etc.
  • Craft a poem that incorporates 2-3 magic elements from the list and 1-2 problems from your other list.

The Witch Has Told You a Story

  • Discuss how the poem takes a fairy tale and retells it in a unique way. This is from the witch speaking. Discuss how telling a familiar story in a unique way leads to deeper insights.
  • Choose favorite story and retell it as a poem
    • Consider changing the point of view, adding new magical elements, setting it in a different place/time period, adding a new or different problem/resolution.

Are You For Real? Magical Realism

Style guide on how to use magical realism in your writing

Photo by Almos Bechtold on Unsplash

Definition

noun; A literary technique in which realistic narration is interwoven with elements of magic, fantasy, or surrealism.

Example

Prudencio Aguilar did not go away, nor did José Arcadio Buendía dare throw the spear. He never slept well after that. He was tormented by the immense desolation with which the dead man had looked at him through the rain, his deep nostalgia as he yearned for living people, the anxiety with which he searched through the house looking for some water with which to soak his esparto plug. “He must be suffering a great deal,” he said to Úrsula. “You can see that he’s so very lonely.” She was so moved that the next time she saw the dead man uncovering the pots on the stove she understood what he was looking for, and from then on she placed water jugs all about the house.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Màrquez

Pros vs Cons

This is a great technique if you’re looking to add surrealism or fantasy without placing your characters in a make-believe world. I.e., you’re trying to set your character in the real world while still incorporating a little magic. You’re not interested in creating a whole new world, society,etc. You just want something out of the ordinary. Culturally, this technique is prominent in Latin American and Caribbean literature where voodoo, curses, zombies, and lengthy sleeping sicknesses are interwoven into everyday routines and consciousnesses.

A drawback to this technique is that if not done properly, you could set up your character or story to be unreliable or too far fetched. (Of course, this is only a problem if you’re not intending to intimate that your character or story is unreliable or crazy.)

Tips

Magical realism takes a subtle hand. You can’t blow pixie dust in the face of your reader. You need to slowly incorporate it into their food until they build a tolerance and accept your magic. A great way to get your reader to accept your magic as ordinary, is to have your characters accept it. Gabriel García Màrquez is a master at this magical subtly. His characters accept magic and surrealism as part of their everyday. No one questions that a certain cousin was born with a pig’s tail. No one freaks out that the ghost of murdered cockfighter comes to haunt them. No one finds the plagues of insomnia an unexplainable medical condition. Everything is taken as a fact of life.

Another good example is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In which the protagonist ages backwards (i.e., as an infant he looks like an old man, and as an old man he looks like an infant). The story is written so convincingly that the search term “Benjamin Button Disease Real?” pops up automatically in Google. Write so convincingly that your readers will need Google to discern facts from fiction.

The Masters

The best way to learn anything is to study those who have perfected the skill. If you’re looking for inspiration or guidance, pick up one of these for your next read:

  • One Hundred Years of Solitude; Gabriel García Màrquez
  • Wide Sargasso Sea; Jean Rhys
  • The Kingdom of this World; Alejo Carpentier
  • Winter’s Tale; Mark Helprin
  • Beloved; Toni Morrison
  • Chocolat; Joanne Harris
  • St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves; Karen Russell