Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Farther Than I Could Have Imagined

Back in June, I received a Google alert.  I figured it was a review of my latest book, but when I checked, I had a pleasant surprise.  Somebody had made a video of a poem I had written a few years ago.

The poem is titled "Missing," and it appeared in Lee Bennett Hopkins' gorgeous book, America at War (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008).  It's in the voice of a young person whose older brother is a soldier, away fighting during the Persian Gulf war in 1991.

I was curious about this video, so I went to Youtube and watched it.  It was very well done, narrated by a young person, with vivid and emotional images.  I wanted to know who had made this video, but the only attribution was "ICT@SSIS,"  with the names Celine, Adrian, and Tsing Lin.

I mentioned this on Facebook, and soon had an email from Lee, saying he'd found another video for the same poem, with the same attribution.  I looked at it, and it seemed like one that had been made before the one I'd been alerted to.  The names given for this one were An, Andy, Victoria, and Chaz.  It appeared there was some sort of contest involved.

So now the search began.

I started with Google.  SSIS.  All I got was more videos.  Like the one for "Missing", they all seemed to be done by school students.  As luck would have it, one of those videos included a teacher's name.  Back to Google I went, and typed in SSIS+ the teacher's name.  Voila!  To my amazement, the students who had made this touching video were 8th graders at the Saigon South International School, in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

I went to the school's website, and saw there was a contact email address, and the name of the "head of school,"  which I assume is the principal, was given.  So I sent her an email, congratulating the kids and asking about the beginning, where the young voices are justifying why this poem should be going "to the next round."  The next day, I had two emails--one from the head of school, Ellen Stern, and one from Danielle Richert, the kids' Humanities and Social Studies teacher.  There had been an 8th grade Poetry Madness tournament, set up like the Poetry Madness tourney over on ThinkKidThink.  In her email, Danielle said, "We started out with 32 poems in 16 different poetry matches.  Students would read the poems, analyze them,  and then vote for which poem in each match should advance to the next round.  Once we reached the quarter-finals, students adopted one of the remaining eight poems.  In groups, they created a digital presentation with their visual and auditory interpretation, as well as their justification for why the poem should advance to the finals.  "Missing" made it to the final round!"

And for once, my timing was absolutely perfect.  It turns out that my email had arrived on the day of the "Moving On" graduating ceremony for the 8th grade students.  In her reply to me, Ms. Stern said "You won't believe how excited they were when I read your email to them!  They couldn't believe they were hearing from a real poet and that their work had made an impact on someone outside of school and family!"

Little did these kids know that I was as excited as they were.  I never imagined that a poem I wrote would be read more than halfway around the world.  I don't know how Ms. Richert found the poem in the first place--perhaps (I hope) she has a copy of Lee's book.   However she found it, I'm delighted that she did.  And it's so good to see that her kids are getting so involved with poetry.  They are an inspiration to kids all over the world. 

Incidentally, this is also a good example of how a poem can be interpreted in different ways by different readers.  These young video makers saw the ending of the poem quite differently than I did.  But that's okay.  That's poetry.

 Here are the two videos:

First, from An, Andy, Victoria, and Chaz: 

And from Celine, Adrian, and Tsing Lin:


  1. And it’s still traveling…. Greetings, Ms. Cotten!

    Thank you so much for this post about your “Missing” poem and the link to one of the videos with the students’ interpretation. When a fellow “Poetry Friday” community member responded to a tanka I wrote, asking if I were familiar with your poem, Voila! I found your heartwarming post and student video. What a gift both are. Thank you for the beautiful poem.

    As a poetry-advocate, I join you in being gratified that your poem resonated so intensely with the students. Kudos to you for writing a timeless poem that evoked so much emotion. As I write “timeless,” I’m thinking how much better it would be if that weren’t the case—if young men and women didn’t have to go missing….If your poem became a period piece. Nonetheless, until that reality changes, at least I hope and pray that poems like yours will help humans become committed to finding alternatives. Too many have missed too much.

    There’s a local funeral home that has “planted” a flag for every American soldier who has died in Afghanistan and Iraq; the director told me they are up to 5,000 flags. Exceedingly too many missings…. God bless you, and, again, thank you!

    p.s. Our Poetry Friday community has a roundup; the hosts are linked here: http://kidlitosphere.org/poetry-friday/ Would you ever care to join us? (I’m the newbie neophyte of the group.)

    Peace! Literally! God bless you.

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