873: Occasional Poem

Slowdown Kids Drawing

873: Occasional Poem

This week’s episodes are special – Major sat down in the studio with five amazing young poets. They laughed, learned, and shared their love of language. We would love to hear your thoughts on this new idea for The Slowdown. Please go to slowdownshow.org/survey to tell us what you think!


Major: I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown. This week, we’re doing something special – we’re exploring poetry in all of its forms with kids who write, rhyme and sing about their lives. And today, we’re exploring words and music with our co-host, Jasper! Jasper is 13 years old; he plays the guitar, loves cantaloupe, and sometimes throws tea parties with his friends!

Jasper: And the tea parties that I do are, like, these things where I get my friends together. We buy a bunch of snacks, sit down at a table or a bench, and just listen to music and talk about life.

Major: Honestly, I don’t know why we all aren’t celebrating teatime. Something sweet! Chillin’ with friends! When Jasper’s not sipping tea, he’s playing music, including songs he’s written.

Jasper: (sings) The day it finally turned around / is the day I realized they were holding me down / The day I no longer wanted to see them / is the day that I walked through a museum / of pain, of us, of / everything leading up to this point in our lives / I think the best pair is you and I –

Major: Jasper considers himself to be more of a lyricist than a poet because he writes the words to his songs. But lyrics are poetry, too!

Major: Hey, Jasper. Thank you for joining me in the studio today!

Jasper: Sure thing!

Major: So, I was reading and listening to your song “Museum” and I wanted to know – do you have a favorite line from the song?

Jasper: I think my favorite line from the song is in the second verse where it says, “If I could take back / every bad thing I ever said about you / I would. Even the ones that were true” I just think it’s clever.

Major: Beautiful sentiment.

Jasper: Thank you.

Major: Yeah, it really is. It really is. You know, I actually got into poetry through music! The first poems I loved were actually rap lyrics, particularly old school rap lyrics. You wanna hear one?

Jasper: Sure!

Major: Okay, here it is:

I get mad frustrated when I rhyme
Thinking of all them kids who try to do this
For all the wrong reasons
Seasons change, mad things rearrange
But it all stays the same like the love Doctor Strange
I'm tame like the rapper
Get red like a snapper when they do that
Got your whole block saying "true that"

That’s “How Many Mics” from The Fugees!

Jasper: I like the rhyme of “Seasons change, mad things rearrange, with Doctor Strange”

Major: I know, right! Dr. Strangelove! Right? Isn’t that cool? So what I love about the process of writing poetry is that it allows me to zoom way, way in on a situation or moment and understand it better. And your song, you pull focus on a turning point in your life when you say, “the day I finally turn around is the day I realized they were holding me down.” By writing that lyric, you marked a very specific moment in your life with words. And I bet you'll never forget it.

Jasper: Yeah, it's very honest to what I was feeling at the time. I just felt that my friends weren't being as nice as they used to be. And it just felt like I should find new ones or go back to some old friends.

Major: Do you feel like your song should be emotionally honest in order to be good?

Jasper: Most of the time.

Major: Yeah. Yeah. I feel the same way about my poetry. And I think to be emotionally honest – you have to be really tuned in to how you’re feeling on the day-to-day.

Which makes me think of a poem I love called “Occasional Poem,” by Jaqueline Woodson. It talks about how we can use words to remember and honor small emotional moments in our lives – even when they might not seem that important. You want to read it for us?

Jasper: Sure! Here is “Occasional Poem” by Jacqueline Woodson.

Ms. Marcus says that an occasional poem is a poem
written about something
or special
that's gonna happen
or already did.
Think of a specific occasion, she says—and write about it.

Like what?! Lamont asks.
He's all slouched down in his seat.
I don't feel like writing about no occasion.

How about your birthday? Ms. Marcus says.
What about it? Just a birthday. Comes in June and it ain't
June, Lamont says. As a matter of fact,
he says, it's January and it's snowing.
Then his voice gets real low and he says
And when it's January and all cold like this
feels like June's a long, long ways away.

The whole class looks at Ms. Marcus.
Some of the kids are nodding.
Outside the sky looks like it's made out of metal
and the cold, cold air is rattling the windowpanes
and coming underneath them too.

I seen Lamont's coat.
It's gray and the sleeves are too short.
It's down but it looks like a lot of the feathers fell out
a long time ago. 
Ms. Marcus got a nice coat.
It's down too but real puffy so
maybe when she's inside it
she can't even tell January from June.

Then write about January, Ms. Marcus says, that's
an occasion.
But she looks a little bit sad when she says it
Like she's sorry she ever brought the whole
occasional poem thing up.

I was gonna write about Mama's funeral
but Lamont and Ms. Marcus going back and forth
zapped all the ideas from my head.

I guess them arguing
on a Tuesday in January's an occasion
So I guess this is an occasional poem.

“Occasional Poem” by Jacqueline Woodson from LOCOMOTION © 2010, Jacqueline Woodson. Used by permission of Penguin Random House.

Major: That was great. I so enjoy poems that capture a scene or tell a story – or both. Your reading put me in that classroom.

Jasper: Thank you. I liked that poem.

Major: What’s your favorite part?

Jasper: I definitely like how the poem kinda talks about the type of poetry it’s about. And it’s about writing a poem. And then you read the poem, and that’s what it is.

Major: … (laughter) Writing the poem is the occasion for the poem.

Jasper: Yeah.

Major: Jasper, thank you so much for sharing.

Major: Since we’re talking poetry with kids and teens on the show this week, we decided to play a unique word game every episode! Today’s game is called:

[SFX Onomato-poof!]

Major: Here’s how it’s going to work. I’m going to read a short poem with missing words, and it’ll be your job to fill those empty spaces with onomatopoeias – a.k.a. words that are sound effects! You’ve got a bunch of onomatopoeias in front of you, can you read ‘em off?

Jasper: Grrr. Crash! Plop. Zap. Boing!

Major: Amazing. Now, when I pause like this – You’ll need to say the first onomatopoeia that comes to mind. So it’ll go something like this: Hotdog! Yum. It goes “SPLAT!” in my tum.

Major: Make sense?

Jasper: Yes.

Major: Okay. Here goes:

Larry the seagull went VROOM on the head

Of a lady who screamed CRASH, ‘till her face turned beet red

Larry cried SPLAT it serves you quite right!

As he sang with a HAHA to the fast fading light:

“The sea, it goes MROWR, as I swoop through the sky.

But people go PLOP, and I don’t know why!

They groan, and scream HARUMPH when I peck or I poo!

Back off, oh be gone, or I’ll BANG on you, too!

Major: Bravo. You got those sounds down, Jasper! Great work.

Jasper: Thanks, Major!

Major: Now, before we go – we’ve been asking young poets across the country to send us their haikus. Here’s one about internet cats from Aidan in Orlando, Florida.

Cats. Fluffy furballs
Took over the internet
Where they purr and meow

Jasper: Cool haiku! I love the onomatopoeias purr and meow.

Major: Totally. If you have a haiku you’d like to submit or feedback you’d like to share, please head to slowdownshow.org/contact and send us your thoughts.