For Julia, in the Deep Water

I’m currently attending the National Writing Project in Kennesaw, Georgia–it’s a dream come true!  This morning we did an activity to teach about reading, discussion, and writing about a poem.  Take a moment and read the poem we read:

For Julia, In the Deep Water

The instructor we hire
because she does not love you
Leads you into the deep water,
The deep end
Where the water is darker—
Her open, encouraging arms
That never get nearer
Are merciless for your sake.

You will dream this water always
Where nothing draws nearer,
Wasting your valuable breath
You will scream for your mother—
Only your mother is drowning
Forever in the thin air
Down at the deep end.
She is doing nothing,
She never did anything harder.
And I am beside her.

I am beside her in this imagination.
We are waiting
Where the water is darker.
You are over your head,
Screaming, you are learning
Your way toward us,
You are learning how
In the helpless water
It is with our skill
We live in what kills us.

—John N. Morris

Have each student have three colors to write with.

1.  Read it and mark anything you don’t understand with color #1.  Write your interpretation and rate your understanding from 1 – 10.  My first reading I underlined little and rated my understanding as a 9.

2.  Discuss it with a partner.

3.  Reread it with color #2 and mark up anything you don’t understand now.  This time write questions about the poem and rate your understanding.  The previous discussion and my questions brought my understanding down to a 7.  Discuss again.

4.  Reread with color #3 and mark what is still confusing to you and rate this reading.  Putting it all together and connecting it to our experiences as mothers and readers, my partner and I came to an understanding of the poem as a literal swimming lesson and all the ways moms/parents have to let their children go–especially in cases of physical or mental or psychological disabilities–including addiction.  Now I’m not saying that is the definite interpretation, which is what makes this a great activity for your students.

7 thoughts on “For Julia, in the Deep Water

  1. I believe that the deep end of this metaphoric pool is depression. Julia is being led to the darker deeper waters by “the instructor they hire”. The poem talks about the instructor not caring like Julia’s mother does, which is exactly why she is being led to the dark waters, the instructor doesn’t have a love and bond for Julia like a parent, or a family member would. Julia’s mom is already at the dark end of the “pool” along with her dad (who is writing the poem. Julia is becoming depressed and begging for help, but the only people that can really help are already “gone” and consumed by the dark, deep waters of depression.

  2. I think this poem could possibly be about society and Julia growing up and her mom won’t always be there to catch her when she falls but she’ll always support her

  3. It’s a difficult poem, isn’t it? Every time I read it a get a slightly different take. I think too, that it has to do with letting our children go. So difficult.

  4. i think that the deep water is life and in the last stanza is how the kid is maturing and the parents have to finally and sadly let go.

  5. In the reading activity about “For Julia, in the Deep Water,” how does discussing the poem with a partner and rereading it with different colored pens help participants move from initially understanding the poem to a deeper analysis that considers the emotional experience of letting go of a child egg rates?

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