A Feast of Words for Thanksgiving

Before you ring the bell to call everyone to the table for this year’s Thanksgiving feast, have them pose for a group photo AND scribble some words for a group poem.

Around here—in the USA, that is—folks are gearing up for Thanksgiving.

Let me pause for a moment to welcome my international followers! Thanks for being here! I love having fellow bards scattered around the world, and I value your perspectives. You may not celebrate Thanksgiving, but you can apply the concepts behind this and other holiday posts to any gathering. Specific holidays might be unique to each culture, but celebration is universal.

Holiday gatherings provide a perfect opportunity for us bards to add to our collections of  insights, perspectives, and voices. This year, consider delegating some of the “work” of writing by inviting everyone present to contribute. Yeah, you heard me. Make ’em write!

Here is one way to create a group poem at your Thanksgiving (or other) gatherings without pressuring people or putting anyone on the spot. I can think of a great number of family members who won’t want to have anything to do with an activity like this. That’s fine! I can also think of plenty who will have a lot of fun with it, adults and kids. You can always encourage participation by having contributors draw for prizes. Just keep it light and fun!

Poem Board

Place a bulletin board, poster, or display board in a central location. Leave out markers or scraps of paper, pencils, and thumbtacks. (If you have little ones milling about, make sure to keep any pointy or stain-inflicting items out of arms’ reach.) Include written instructions and examples to guide others to share their words. Explain in the instructions that you plan to compile the contributions to create a group-authored poem. See the list of possible instructions below under “Themes for your many-voiced poem.”

What you can do with end product

You can include this poem in your journal or scrapbook; share it on a website or in a  newsletter; send or email individual copies to those who helped author it; or frame and “unveil” it at your next gathering. If you make this activity part of a large event like a family reunion, you could even auction off the framed piece (if it’s display-worthy!) at next year’s reunion.

Consider your group

To deflect potential mayhem of mischievous revelers at your gathering, you might think about including special instructions or warnings, things like:

  • “No profanity or potty humor!”
  • “Nothing that might embarrass or hurt others.”
  • “Don’t expect cheeky stuff to make it into the final compilation.”
  • “Don’t be a wet blanket! No grumpy stuff allowed.”
  • “Refrain from TMI (too much information).”

I am originally a high school teacher by profession, so I always think of situations that invite tomfoolery. If you have individuals attending who are known chaos catalysts, you should probably make a box instead of a board. The box method is also useful if you want the more reserved attendees to join in. Here’s how:

  • Wrap a closed shoe box in festive wrapping paper or butcher paper.
  • Decorate further if you like. You can make this a project for the kids by leaving out stickers, crayons, etc.
  • Cut a slot in the top just big enough for the slips of paper to fit through.

Thanksgiving option:

  • Have people drop their completed cards into a cornucopia.

Themes for your many-voiced poem

  • Colors of thanks– describe a colorful image that portrays something for which you are grateful.
    • Example: “Dark of winter, the baby’s head golden with lamplight.”
  • Sounds and scents of thanks – describe a sound and/or scent that reminds you of something for which you are thankful.
  • Family portrait – describe an image or a relate a moment from the year that shows what makes this family/group/community great.
  • A year of moments – List one of your happiest, proudest, or sweetest moments of the year. Next, describe an object that you associate with that moment. Make sure to include color, texture, or other appeals to the senses.
  • Our favorite places – Write down your favorite place to be and give three details to describe it. List an emotion that you associate with this place or explain what makes it so special to you.
  • Look at all we’ve built– Help make a tribute to all that we’ve built and created as a group this year. Name something that you or someone close to you has made this year. It doesn’t have to be physical; memories shared, goals met, and relationships strengthened are important creations, too! Now give details about the creation.
    • Examples: If you list a new baby as your creation, details might be, “Has Mom’s dimples and brother’s spunk.” Details for a new business enterprise might be, “Freshly pressed business cards, the texture of her name in raised blue ink.”
  • Mystery poem – Come up with your own line to a poem about anything that you think will make our hearts cheerful. The finished product will be a mishmash of worded wonder!

What to do with all these scraps

The words you end up with will be the raw stuff of one or more poems that you can compile as you see fit. Look for a thread to tie it all together or choose a format that will unify the many parts. You need not use every word. Feel free to add words or change verb tense/sentence structure. Only, do try to keep as much of the contributors’ original text as possible.

Basically, try to stay true to the author’s voice and message, but make alterations and edits as needed to fuse together the pieces into a coherent whole.

Think of each scrap of paper or written phrase as a shard of colored glass which you will use to make a splendid mosaic window. It will capture an image of your group at this unique point in time. It will throw a lovely, mottled light on the world.

Exercise in gratitude

What am I thankful for this season? Why, words, of course! Words form the visage of relationships. They conjoin our bodies and spirits! And if you don’t believe in a spiritual dimension, you will still agree that words are special for their ability to connect us to one another. And connecting with another is, in and of itself, a form of transcendence. I am so thankful for the words that join us, soothe us, ignite us, and strengthen us.

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About Lesley Clinton

Lesley's poems have appeared in the 2016 Houston Poetry Fest Anthology, the 2017 Texas Poetry Calendar, Sakura Review, Haiku Society of America members anthology, Euphony Journal, Frogpond Journal, and others.
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