“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” is a work of historical fiction which attempts to describe the indescribable horror of the Holocaust through the eyes of boyhood observers. To help her students relate to the novel and the challenging subject matter, Cedaredge Middle School (CMS) instructor Amy Odubhaigh asked her eighth grade English Language Arts students to write poems about the Holocaust. She also invited the town’s poet laureate, Phil Ellsworth, to visit her classroom in order to share his insights into writing and reading poetry.
Weeks after Ellsworth’s visit, the CMS eighth graders were still moved by the experience.
“He talked to us and read poems and played songs on his harmonica,” said one student, “And we got to share some of our own poetry.”
“He said he was going to ‘put a poem in our heart,’” said another. “And the love from him flowed through the room to everyone else around him.”
“The whole thing was peaceful and nice.”
“It was amazing to meet him and nice to hear from a person so experienced.”
“The best advice he gave for reading a poem was: ‘forget it’s a poem, don’t be confused, just read it.’”
Reflecting on the meaning of poetry in his life, Ellsworth — who is also a retired geologist — said, “To me a poem is a way of conveying an emotion from writer to reader; it connects us to one-another. Robert Frost has said somewhere that a poem is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found its words. Finding things, discovery, was my career, so the transition to poetry and the idea that poems are discovered seemed a natural one.”