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.