Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Exploring Our Values Through Poetry: A Program for High School Youth

Activity 2: Jazz Poems

Activity time: 25 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • One set of three different colored sheets of paper for each participant; or three sheets of white paper and three different colored markers for each participant
  • Journals and pens or pencils
  • Optional: Jazz CDs and CD player
  • Optional: Scissors, glue, and extra paper for collage

Preparation for Activity

  • If you plan to play jazz music during this activity, have your CD/tape player and music ready.
  • On a dry erase board or on newsprint, write:
    • ADVICE
  • For each participant, prepare either a set of colored paper or three colored pencils/markers and three sheets of white paper, as listed in Materials for Activity.
  • Optional: To allow participants to create their jazz poems as a collage instead of in written form, have scissors, glue, and extra paper available. See Alternate Activity 1, Poetry Collage, for a description of how to create a collage.

Description of Activity

Participants use their formative experiences, values, and ideas to create mission jazz poems.

Explain that this activity will help each person explore his/her own mission or path in life by using his/her own life experiences and thoughts as the raw material for a mission jazz poem.

Share with participants that Shu Ting is a contemporary Chinese poet whose birth name is Gong Peiyu. She started writing poetry during the Cultural Revolution when she was sent to work in the countryside. Her career has included periods of inactivity because of heavy criticism from the government and suspicion of subversion. Ask the group: do you think events in Shu Ting's life helped shape a sense of purpose or mission in her writing?

Distribute pencils/markers and three sheets of paper to each participant.

Give the following instructions, allowing one minute between each instruction for participants to complete the step. Refer to the words you wrote on newsprint or a dry erase board beforehand.

  • On the first piece of paper, list the MOMENTS in your life that have made you who you are. These are likely to be moments of struggle, profound realization, change, or growth. Limit each to one simple line, in the form of a statement.
  • Use a different color to make another list on another sheet of paper. This time write, in the same simple form, what you deem to be your possible MISSIONS. Write as many as you can, as quickly as you can.
  • Use a third color to make a third list on another sheet of paper. In the same simple form, list pieces of ADVICE you would give your best friend who is undergoing a very big challenge, loss, or change.

After reading the instructions, give participants several more minutes to complete their lists. Then ask them to spread their three lists in front of them. Ask participants what they notice, using these questions as prompts:

  • Which lines, either on the same or on different lists, seem to echo or contradict one another?
  • Do any of the lines address the same topics or ideas?
  • Do any of the lines surprise you?

Next, invite participants to assemble a "jazz" poem using lines from all three lists. The whole poem does not have to make a single point or make sense. Participants should simply notice relationships among their list items and choose the lines they like and want to use. They may repeat lines if they wish.

Distribute the journals and pens or pencils for writing the jazz poems. If you are offering participants the option to make their jazz poems by collage, do not use journals. Instead, indicate where they can find scissors, glue, and paper.

Consider playing jazz music to set a jazzy mood.

If participants leave the room to work on their poems, tell the group when to reconvene. Allow ten minutes for reading and discussing the completed poems.

Challenge the group to overlay a jazz-like interpretation on the readings, complete with responses befitting a jazz recital. Each volunteer may read aloud his/her own poem, or you may pass the poems around for a series of people to read aloud, line by line. Invite the group-and yourself-to celebrate, laugh, applaud, and/or be wowed in response to the poems, as one might at a jazz recital.

During and after the readings, guide the group to connect the exercise with their ongoing search for a personal mission. Use these questions as prompts:

  • What are your thoughts on what this process was like?
  • What has the process revealed to you? What did you learn about how you see your own mission or sense of purpose in life?
  • How do we find out what our mission or sense of purpose is in life? Do we meditate? Guess? Stumble upon it? Ask a wise person? Or simply observe ourselves in life?
  • How does your UU faith inform your sense of mission? Does Unitarian Universalism suggest that you have a mission or what that mission should be?
  • Can you trust anyone outside yourself, such as your church, your parents, your teachers, or your friends, to articulate your mission for you?