When Chicken McNugget is an Adjective

Last week we wrote about dreams. My students’ poems were serious and heartfelt. Dare I say … pedestrian? They dreamed of getting their GEDs and being the best mothers in the world. That’s lovely … moving even … but where were the metaphors? Where was the imagistic writing? Shouldn’t dreams by their very nature be fanciful? Extravagant? 

So this week I handed out sheets of loose-leaf paper. “Fold it into three vertical columns,” I instructed, “and keep it folded so only the first column shows.” When that task was accomplished, I continued, “Now, write a list of adjectives.” I handed out thesauruses, too. “I want interesting adjectives,” I demanded. “Not good, or bad or pretty, but luscious or sluggish.”

To stoke the fires I asked questions: Name some adjectives that describe hair: “Curly, bald, smooth,” students offered. “Now give me some adjectives that describe farts.” Okay, I asked for it: “Smelly, loud, disgusting …”

After a few more go rounds, we refolded the paper so only the middle column showed. Now it’s time for nouns. Again, I tried to nudge their imaginations in new directions: “Name things that are in your pocket or purse, things that you’d see at a funeral, the strangest thing you’ve ever seen …”

Words were flying around the classroom: nouns, adjectives, even some wayward verbs. My favorite was chicken mcnugget, which made its way into the adjective column, and which we decided could be used to describe, for example, a person’s hands. As in, “He has chicken mcnugget fingers.”

Now we unfolded our papers. Put the words “I have in front of each pair of words,” I said. The last column could be used to add a metaphor or further description, as in: “I have a gaping casket, big enough for your big mouth in,” as E. wrote.

Then we read the lists out loud. We had lines like:

I have stubby cigarettes

And tired camels

I have a chicken mcnugget daughter

And two tired priests.

When we read our poems out loud we had stupendous laughter ricocheting off the Silly Putty walls. And a bunch of teenagers who became adults a little too quickly forgot for an hour to be their tough, serious, burdened selves. And best of all, J., who had done nothing but complain about poetry for weeks was suddenly a raucous little elf.

“I didn’t know we could do this in poetry!” she said between bouts of giggles.

When Poetry Class was over I gathered my things and walked out the door, but I could still hear M and J calling out to each other: “Give me another adjective … no, I want something more interesting.”

What’s another word for elated?