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Contemplation Writing Leads to Poetry Writing

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Contemplation Writing Leads to Poetry: There’s a Soul Arising in My Mind (Part 1)

In Memory of Irwin Gonshak, Producer of “Poetry-In-The-Morning” on WNYE-FM, Sponsored by the Teachers & Writers Collaborative in New York City


There’s a Soul Arising in My Mind is a compilation of student contemplations (prose) juxtaposed with original student poetry.  The prose comes from an innovative and progressive form of writing I created and developed called “Contemplation Writing.”  This pre-poetry project uses music (of all types), recall/visualization/reflection/contemplation, writing, and discussion to soothe children on journeys of self-discovery, self-motivation, and self-education.  They learn to deal with inner experience through mind-pictures, feelings, and thoughts, all key components necessary for enjoying poetry writing.


I first introduce kids to inner experience through the “Counting Technique,” where they count backwards, slowly, by ones, and then describe whatever they discovered inside the mind and imagination.  After several practice lessons in counting, I switch to the “Music Technique.”  In the first part of a typical contemplation session, students listen to music, relax, and then use the mind’s eye to contemplate experience.  Writing follows the contemplation.  They can write about whatever is experienced inside (there are no writing prompts).  Their responses are read aloud during a discussion period and probed, analyzed, and expanded by the teacher and students.


After eight weeks of Contemplation Writing, I introduce poetry reading and writing.  The students, mostly Latino and African-American, are ready to make the transition because they have become accustomed to getting into many real/surreal, inner/outer experiences, and expressing them in their contemplations.


The order of presentation for the student anthology is: contemplation—poem—contemplation—poem—contemplation—poem…The reason for juxtaposing the prose and poetry is to show how Contemplation Writing can be an important preliminary step to understanding and appreciating poetry.


Contemplation #5

While the music was on, I thought about how everybody treats me.  I’m a piece of trash like an old newspaper.  I am always rejected.  Nobody really cares if something happens to me.  If I’m having an argument, they try to push me into a fight.  They only want to be your friend if you have something.  They fight me back with their words and I can’t say anything to them.  I have one friend I am always afraid of hurting because she’s a friend of mine.  No one wants to be her friend.  Sometimes I say to myself, “Life stinks.”



In a playground

children running

they vacate

one by one

a little boy was left


on a seesaw

he gets off and


now I’m alone

alone in a park

with no one beside me

except my shadow

a desolate shadow

fading away



Contemplation #6

Fear is something each of us carries inside ourselves everyday of our lives.  When you’re little, you’re scared of the dark.  When you’re old, you’re scared of death.  You can be afraid of scary movies and you can have the fear of getting hit by a baseball when batting.  You fear going to sleep one day and not knowing if you’re going to get up the next.  There’s the fear of not knowing whether you’re going to win or lose a big game.  You can have the fear of nightmares when you wake up at 3 am all sweaty and anxious to go back to sleep.  That’s something that gets you to do childish things like sleeping with the lights on.  It’s like smoking cigarettes or doing drugs.  Once you do it, you do it again and again.  The idea is not to let the fear take you over.  You overcome the fear.



The frightened girl

is in her

room with a gun

Because she has

been angry

for years.



Contemplation #14

Today, after lunch, everyone needed something to talk about.  Jose went to a girl in another class and asked her if she really kissed me in the second grade.  She said “yes.”  I feel like killing him for asking her and telling Peter.  Now everyone is talking about it and putting me down.  I’ll get even.



The world of hate

nobody gets what

they want  it’s not

just free you pay cash

I know sometimes you

hate this world but

the world sometimes

is full of hate



Contemplation #9

I was thinking that I went to hell and saw lots of people.  I met the Devil and he said, “Greetings,another customer.”  I said, “What do you do down here?”  He said, “Make people angry.”  “So why am I here?” I said.  “I’m not angry.  I’m just sick of you making people angry.”  Then I saw a dagger and threw it and hit the Devil.  He died and there was no such thing as hell anymore.



I hate when

something bad

happens  i try

not to take my

anger out on people

sometimes i

just can’t

help it



Contemplation #2

When I closed my eyes, I saw a dream I once had.  It was about me and twenty other people who were on a train that kept riding and riding.  I looked out the window and watched the houses passing by.  Suddenly, the train began going faster and faster.  There was no engineer.  The train was out of control.  The only way out was to jump.  The train kept going and going.  Each time five people jumped and landed safely.  Soon there were no more people left except myself.  The train passed my house.  I jumped to safety and went home.



wind, sand, storm

to blast us

away from




Contemplation #4

While the music played, I fantasized that I was a candy bar and nobody ever bought me.  One day a man walked in the door and asked, “How much is this ‘Snicker’ bar (which was me)?”  The clerk said “fifty cents,” and the man bought me.  When he got home, he put me into the refrigerator.  There I stood for a while and froze.  He took me out and he was just about to eat me and I started crying, “Oh please don’t eat me, please.”  And then the music shut off and that was the end.



Nothing but shadows

Following me

Everywhere I go

Nothing I can do

Yet nothing I could say

For the shadows still

Follow me



Contemplation #17

As the music played, the walls started to come in on us.  We all started screaming.  Finally, we were in the middle of the room.  The walls, suddenly, stopped moving.  And right over us, a bright light appeared.  It was like the sun over us.  We tried to look for the door, but there was no way out.  One of the children said, “Why don’t we try to climb into the bright light?”  So we did.  We ended up on the roof of the school.  Everyone said, “Let’s jump!”  So we did, and landed safely.  We all decided to walk home.  But when each kid got to his house, there was no one,  nowhere.  It was just us.  And we all returned to the front of the school and stood there  frightened.



When I go to school

in the morning it’s

quiet but the later it

gets the louder it gets

people are crowded in the

lunchroom little kids are

running all over the school

and getting caught by

a teacher or principal

and getting suspended

for a week while other

kids are playing tackle

football in the lunchroom

and special ed kids chasing

girls around the tables

and auditorium and then the

teachers are yelling and

screaming which makes the

kids and teachers mad.



Contemplation #27

Today I feel like telling the truth.   I am having feelings lately about death.  You know, I wonder why we were put on earth alive even though we eventually die.  Today I felt like dying because I might have brains and muscles, but it feels like I have no heart.  Something is beating, but not my heart.  It’s a thing and I don’t know what it is.  And today, after jogging, I saw myself decreasing in size.



My name is nothing.

My eyes can’t see.

My ears can’t hear.

My mouth can’t talk.

My legs can’t walk.

My hands can’t touch.

My body can’t move.

My heart can’t love.

Nothing can do nothing.

My name is nothing.



Contemplation #29

I have no reason for living.  I am kicked around like a playground ball.  I don’t even like myself.  The world is an ugly place.  I feel like committing suicide.  I almost did two weeks ago, but didn’t.  Today, everything went wrong.  If one more thing goes wrong today, I will do it.  I will.  I swear on my grandmother’s grave.  I will!!!  My self-esteem is down to zero.  If I even feel this way again, it will be too soon.  I will kill myself.  I mean it.  Nobody will care—not even my parents.  It’s a free country.  I can kill myself, and I will.  You can bet on it.  I am almost dead anyway.  The doctor said I may have to be operated on, but I’m not going to go through with it.  That will show the world!  You can bet on it.  I will kill myself in any way I can!!!!



I’m rocking in a boat

The tide is too


For no particular reason

I jumped into the


Feeling nothing now

But the water rushing

Against my skin

And now

nothing else



Contemplation #32

See, I try to talk freely, but the only person I feel I can talk to—though she is dead—was my mother.  My mother was the only one who I felt comfortable talking to.  Today, I am thinking how short life is and how sad and mean it can be at times.  Life is a kick in the ass.  When I saw Maria crying, I remembered when my mother died and I cried for days.  When I stopped, I stopped.



in life people must

die while others live

a long life  people

should know that life

is just like ink in

a pen  it just runs

out and then it is




The subject matter, themes, ideas, and emotions expressed in the contemplations and the poetry include a broad spectrum of inner and outer experiences triggered by the workings of the students’ minds and imaginations as they listened to the music:

emotions/negative/positive/anger/fear/hate/anxiety/panic, isolation/loneliness, bullying, surreal and imaginary worlds, metaphors, abandonment, fantasies, school dreams/, public school, truth, living and dying, revenge, friendship, pain/hurt, justice/fairness, self-esteem, suicide, parents, overcoming fear, guns/Devil/hell, nightmares, nothingness, and shadows.


The kids really stuck with the motto of the Contemplation Writing Project, which states: “Get into it, and get it out.”  Contemplation to music became a release of feelings, thoughts, and mind-pictures (good, bad, or ugly), and, in the end, a project that developed and improved key EI/SEL skills of self-awareness, self-knowledge, self-understanding, self-motivation, and self-direction.


Interested in learning more about “Music Writing” or “Contemplation Writing”?  Check out my interview on the radio show, “Pure Imagination” (Progressive Radio Network), with two amazing teenage hosts, Rachel Trachtenburg and Julia Cumming from the band, Supercute, who will appear on an upcoming MTV series.  The link for the show (7/13/12) is: http://prn.fm/2012/07/14/pure-imagination-071312.  You can also Google Pure Imagination – 07/13/12 | Progressive Radio Network to find the show.


Julianna Lyddon interviewed me about the Contemplation Music Writing Project on the radio show “Connect With Julianna” (Toginet Radio Network).  Choose the following links to take you to the podcast page and download it onto your computer, iPad, iPhone, etc.: http://bit.ly/iTFbk7 and http://bit.ly/t5FA0W.  OR, go to Connect with Creative Educator and Author, Jeffrey Pflaum 07-06-2012 and download the podcast.


For more information about the “Contemplation Writing” Project, see my former posts as a BAM! Street Journal Blogger on the BAM Radio Network:

  • “Contemplation Writing: An Alternative to Journal Writing and Mindfulness Programs” (2/21/12)
  • “Contemplation Writing: An Alternative to Journal Writing and Mindfulness Programs, Part 2, The Music Technique” (3/1/12)
  • “Contemplation Writing: An Alternative to Journal Writing and Mindfulness Programs, Part 3, Contemplation Comprehension and The Contemplation Questionnaire” (3/17/12)
  • “Contemplation Writing: An Alternative to Journal Writing and Mindfulness Programs, Part 4, Categories of Student Contemplations” (4/5/12)
  • “Contemplation Writing: An Alternative to Journal Writing and Mindfulness Programs, Part 5, Themes from Student Contemplations” (4/30/12)


Two additional articles/blog posts can be found at www.edutopia.org.  The link for “Using ‘Music Writing’ to Trigger Creativity, Awareness and Motivation” (4/2/12) is: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/music-writing-trigger-creativity-jeffrey-pflaum.


The link for “Build Reading and Writing Skills with Music” (6/6/12) is: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/reading-skills-music-writing-jeffrey-pflaum.


For more background, articles, and supporting documents about “Contemplation Writing,” go to the author’s web site at www.JeffreyPflaum.com.


Interested in other programs in mindfulness and contemplation, check out the following:


  • Dr. Amy Saltzman’s web site, dramy@stillquietplace.com, for some great programs that can be implemented in the schools.
  • MiEN, Mindfulness in Education Network, at MiEN@yahoogroups.com, for more information about EI/SEL, and to make connections with other educators interested in this vital area.
  • Linda Lanteri’s web site, www.lindalantieri.org, for her “Inner Resilience Program.”
  • CASEL, Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, www.casel.org, for more information about the different EI/SEL programs across the country.
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Jeffrey Pflaum has been an inner-city elementary school teacher in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, for thirty-four years (NYCDOE, retired in 2002). He worked as a creative writing, whole language, social studies, gifted/talented, physical education, and mentor teacher in grades K – 6 and special education. Pflaum coached middle school boys and girls basketball teams and one of his players became coach of the Pace University team. Tennis was also taught on the elementary school level to lower grade kids as part of the NY Junior Tennis League Program founded by Arthur Ashe.

Pflaum considers himself a teacher-developer-researcher experimentalist who created successful education projects in emotional intelligence, social and emotional learning, reading, writing, poetry, thinking, creativity, vocabulary expansion, concentration, and intra- and interpersonal communication skills. He has written articles for professional newspapers and publications about his curricula. Various programs appeared on web sites such as ERIC and CASEL/Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning (“Experiences, Reflections, and Insights”).

One program was featured at the International National Council of Teachers of English at NYU as one of the best examples of English Language Arts in the NYC Public Schools, K – 12. His students’ poetry and prose have been published in college, writers’, gifted secondary, and children’s literary journals, magazines, newspapers, and by major commercial book publishers; read on public radio (Poetry-In-The-Morning, WNYE-FM, sponsored by the Teachers & Writers Collaborative/NYC); and, won honors and awards from PBS, Channel Thirteen/NYC. One student, Noel “Speedy” Mercado, became a top NYC disc jockey on WKTU-FM.

Pflaum published an inspirational book about adolescent reading lives titled MOTIVATING TEEN AND PRETEEN READERS: HOW TEACHERS AND PARENTS CAN LEAD THE WAY (Rowman & Littlefield Education). For book reviews, go to http://www.examiner.com/review/motivating-your-kids-to-read to see Kecia Burcham's response to the book, and also, The Teachers College Record for Karen Polk's insightful article. For Karen Polk's review (8/24/12), from the Teachers College Record, google "MOTIVATING TEEN AND PRETEEN READERS - Teachers College Record."

Go to www.JeffreyPflaum.com for more articles on "Contemplation Writing," Meditative Writing Ideas, Internet radio interviews, published student poetry, and newspaper articles about his book on motivating adolescent readers and Inner Cities Arts Project. His recent interviews on Contemplation Writing can be found at these "Pure Imagination" links: http://prn.fm/2012/07/14/pure-imagination-071312 and Pure Imagination - 07/13/12 | Progressive Radio Network. A second interview on "Connect With Julianna" (Toginet Radio Network) about "Contemplation" or "Music" Writing can be found at these links: http://bit.ly/iTFbk7 and http://bit.ly/t5FA0W; or, Connect with Creative Educator and Author, Jeffrey Pflaum.

Pflaum is currently a regular blogger on The BAM Radio Network's blog, ED Words, where posts about a plethora of his projects can be found at: www.bamradionetwork.com/edwords-blog/blogger/listings/jeffpaul. Also, he is a contributing writer for EDUCATION VIEWS at: www.educatnviews.org/author/jeffreypflaum/

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