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INNER CITIES: The Lives of Children through their Prose and Poetry

Posted by on in Teens and Tweens
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Jeffrey Pflaum, blogger on BAM, is also hosting CREATIVELY SPEAKING on the network's new show, PULSE (category: "Classroom Innovation").  Please check out the 12-minute podcasts on creativity, creative- and critical thinking, EI, social-and-emotional learning, and more.


INNER CITIES: The Lives of Children through their Prose and Poetry


The original student poetry in the article comes from There’s a Soul Arising in My Mind, which was read on the public radio show, “Poetry-In-The-Morning” on WNYE-FM, sponsored by the Teachers & Writers Collaborative in New York City.


PLEASE NOTE: If you enjoy this post, please check out PART 1 titled, "Contemplation Writing Leads to Poetry Writing," for more student free-verse poetry juxtaposed with their contemplations from "The Contemplation Music Writing Project."


Part 2 of There’s a Soul Arising in My Mind is a continuation of my students’ contemplations or prose juxtaposed with their original poetry.  The selections come from my “Contemplation Music Writing Project,” which sensitizes children to themselves, the inside world, others, and the world around them.


During the contemplation periods, music lays the foundation for relaxation, visualization, reflection, concentration, and contemplation, enabling kids to illuminate their minds and imaginations with the spotlight of the inner eye.  Students visualize experiences as mind-pictures and become aware of the “charge” of emotions and thoughts within and around them.


After several weeks of Contemplation Writing, where children listened to music, contemplated their inner experiences, wrote about what happened inside, and then talked about it, poetry was introduced.  Contemplation prepared students for studying and appreciating poetry.  Throughout our contemplation, writing, and discussion sessions, we expressed and conveyed some of the basic elements of poetry—images, feelings, and thoughts.


Again, in Part 2 of “Contemplation Writing Leads to Poetry Writing,” their work will be presented in the following manner: contemplation—poem—contemplation—poem—contemplation—poem, to demonstrate the relationship between the contemplations and the poetry.


Contemplation #24


I thought about what Mr. Pflaum told me about my father.  And I think he is right in a way, but I still don’t have anything to do with him.  I have his telephone number, but I don’t want to call him.  My mother tells me to call, but I don’t want to, and I don’t.  And I don’t want to write any letters because I know he isn’t going to have time to answer them.  I will tell you the reason why.  It is because he hasn’t come around on my birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and Thanksgiving.  If I don’t call him and tell him what date my graduation is, he wouldn’t even know about it or come.  I know he loves me because I am his only daughter left.  My other two sisters are dead.  He didn’t even bother to tell me I had sisters or a brother.  And don’t get me wrong, I love my father with all my heart, and I know he loves me, too, but he has a funny way of showing it.  To tell you the truth, I don’t want to see him for the rest of my life.  I haven’t seen him for six years.  Last year I started to see him and then I stopped because he has a wife now.  They think that they could start playing mommy and daddy and I’m the daughter.  I would love to tell him this, but I have too much of a heart.  I am so happy that I got this out in the open.




I’ve lost my girl

Cause I stoled

her pearls

I needed the money

to buy me a car

a home and food

I’m sorry

for being

so rude




for the shoes

I washed them

with clorox bleach

I thought they were


But they were red

I’m sorry

So sorry

forgive me




Contemplation #16


I felt horrible.  You see, my parents are thinking of getting a divorce, and it makes me sad.  I feel as if I’m being pulled in all directions.  I’m being torn from limb to limb and it hurts.  I see them fighting all the time.  Every time he comes home, my sister and I go to our rooms so we don’t have to hear them—even though we do.  My sister and I start crying because just listening to them gets us upset.  Yesterday, they really went at it.  My mother was very upset.  She looked like she was going to explode.  I feel as if I made them angry and it’s my fault, but I know it isn’t.  I just wish that they would stop fighting.  My mom said that we are going to move out.




Think beyond

the borders of reality.

Look to him, yes him,

the Rebel of Truth,

an Outcast to all.

See him weep,

See him sob.

That is a man of Truth.

Contemplation #35


While the music was on, I thought about my cousin.  He’s nice and all, but he’s always correcting me.  He thinks he’s perfect.  It’s kind of like a pencil writing and another pencil is behind it, erasing away all the words the pencil wrote.





I don’t know enough about myself

Is that a crime

No but my mind tells me it is

I don’t understand

Stop all of this



no mercy you show



I know enough about





Contemplation #29


I was thinking about myself, how sometimes I want something, but I don’t know what.  Or, sometimes, I am in a sad mood and I don’t know why.  Sometimes I don’t want to talk or hear anyone.  I just want to escape from everything, but there is no hiding place.  There is no door with a key to lock yourself inside because someone always knocks on that door.  Sometimes I feel isolated when I feel that I don’t know anything at all.  I feel…confused.




run, run

for life,

but how

without shoes?




Contemplation #22


I pictured myself on a beach and there was a red, purple, orange, and blue sky.  The ocean was clear and very quiet.  Suddenly, I felt my soul rising from the ocean.  I saw myself standing in the ocean—not me, but my spirit.  Was I dead?  I must have been.  The spirit went away in my dream and I said, “It was just my mind.”  I returned home and everyone was dressed in black.  They were going to my funeral.  I thought it was real, and then I really woke up.  I looked at everyone and remembered we had to do contemplation.




A glass of milk,

Shining like the sky,

As white as the snow,

And cold like the breeze,

Goes down your throat,

Everything you thought

Now is nothing.




Contemplation #15


Five minutes ago that flathead, dummy Johnny, messed up my book cover.  It started this morning: I bought three books from the Book Fair and one book cover.  After lunch, I was finished with my work, and started to color in the cover.  Then Birdo (Johnny) asked if he can color.  I said, “No!”  When the teacher walked in, she read a story and had us write a Greek Myth.  She said if we wanted to work with a buddy we could.  So I sat next to Jose and Birdo started to color my book cover.  He messed it up.  Good thing it was a wheel.  He made a rainbow-colored wheel.  I colored it black.  I am MAD!  Angry!!!  Upset!!!!!!


Contemplation #20


When the music was playing, I thought about yesterday when we came back from lunch.  Willie got me mad.  I felt like a bomb ready to blow up because he said that I am always sweatin’ Jose.  He started ranking me by the way I dress.  He called my sneakers “Burger Kings” and I have a nerdy haircut.  Then he said to me, “What do you have to say?”  I stood quiet, but in my head I said, “I have a few things I can say about you, but it’ll start trouble.”  So I kept quiet.  I felt like killing him.





too tired to learn

too tired to work

too tired to play

I’m tired

tired of those kids

they have to tease me

I’m too tired to fight back




Contemplation #21


I really got into the music.  I fell into a very good mood.  I felt like dancing.  I was really relaxed.  It was great.  The music burned a smile on my face.  It just woke me up.  I felt like the music was inside me.  It lit up my day.  I mean, if it wasn’t for the music, I wouldn’t get into anything.  I never thought that contemplation could be this much fun.




The radio was on

I was just sitting there


to the words

and the beat

of the song

It was quiet

I sat there


thinking how to write my life

in a poem

how could I explain it

in words

the poem would never end




Contemplation #11


I had a picture of a lot of bubbles, and inside of them were kids from the class.  Everyone was trying to get out.  But suddenly someone came.  Nobody knew him.  Everyone said, “Who is that?”  He took out a giant pin and started popping everybody’s bubbles.  We were all free.  But I didn’t find out what happened because the music went off.




My, my Clara,

everyone looks for the woman

who feeds the cats,

the homeless

and the poor.


My, my Clara,

everyone looks for Clara,

the woman with

tender eyes

and warm smile.


My, my Clara,

the woman who cares

for the wounded hearts

and troubled minds.


My, my Clara,

the woman who travels

from Williamsburg to Borough Park,

and back again

with just $1.15,

and returns again

with shopping bags

of clothes and toys

for all the street children.


My, my Clara,

the woman with such love

and kindness

for the human race,

such courage and loyalty,

Clara treats everyone

the same.


My, my Clara,

what will we do






Contemplation #27


While the music was playing, I thought about the letter Mr. Pflaum wrote home to me this weekend.  His last line on the letter really said a lot about what I’m doing in school—which isn’t much.  He wrote, “I’m an old song which can become a sad one if I keep doing what I’m doing in school.”  Now I think I understand about putting more effort into all my work instead of just saying, “Well, this is easy so I’ll do it another time when I can do it quickly.”  I also found out that my father went through the exact same thing I’m going through now.  I said to him the next day, “If you know what happened to you, tell me before I go through that phase of life.”  I realized that I have to get my butt back on course before I end up working as the guy in the zoo who picks up after the elephants.




The Art




The Mind:

What may

the Truth





Contemplation #10


As the music played, I felt the sound of the flute go into my head.  I thought about whales in the deep blue sea.  I just imagined the whales going in and out of the water.  The splash of the whales was gigantic and their skin was sky blue and the sea looked so wonderful. The flute always makes me think about the wilderness or something peaceful like that.  Just thinking about their tails swinging across, and then splashing back into the sea makes me relax and feel so calm.  The flute always echoes in my ear.




I am at peace with the world,

Concentrating on the soft sounds of music,

Silence is all I can hear.




Contemplation #25


I imagined a beach in the night.  I saw the left side and it looked like a black shade—the right side, too.  Over the middle of the beach was a full moon.  The middle appeared to be dark blue, and the sea was black.  You could see the moon’s reflection in the dark water.  There were only a few stars out that night.  It’s weird because I started picturing flowers coming out of the sea, and then a soft breeze hit me in my face.




A tingle

a touch a feel

of a touch

with a flower

a hand a piece of

velvet against

your face

a touch



Contemplation #15


I felt extremely relaxed.  I felt the flute within.  It was a beautiful feeling.  It was like I was floating in air.  I felt so light and relaxed I almost fell asleep.  It was a strong feeling, a feeling I never had before.  It was fantastic.  It’s a little weird to explain, but it was great.  I wish everybody would feel this way.




Another day to pray

to days of glory

days of suns

days of prayers

whispering to day or night

of splendid colors to shine




Contemplation #13


I felt good and happy.  I saw myself fly like a bird and call all the other birds.  I was light as a feather drifting in the air.  And then I started falling and landed on a big pillow that looked like a gigantic marshmallow, all soft and bouncy.  I fell asleep, one, two, three…




white and golden

bursting light flying high

wings streaming through the heavens

driving to God with all his children




Contemplation #31


As I listened, I remembered a dream I had.  I was on a beautiful island with no people.  There were just trees.  It was only me.  I got scared for a minute, but then I started to think: “I’m all alone, no harm or evil, and no television to hear about the war.  I was in complete peace.  If only life was peace…




The last man

who stood on Earth

left because

of feelings

that were abnormal:

The man left Earth

for peace.




The prose/contemplations and poems included a wide variety of experiences prompted internally by the students themselves.  I did not ask them to write on a specific subject or topic, they were free to write about whatever crossed their minds and imaginations.  Contemplation Writing is a spontaneous form of writing that uses music to calm them at first, and secondly, to inspire and ignite an inner narrative describing what experiences they are going through as the music plays.  Here is a short list of themes culled from the above contemplations:


Child-parent relationships, divorce, sadness, criticism, knowing yourself, confusion, moodiness, escape from one’s self, dreams, illusions, reality, teasing, put-downs/rank-outs, rivalries, inner peace, happiness, self-control, contemplation, thinking, surreal worlds, kindness, giving/caring, sensitivity, courage, reflection, self-realization, courage, reflection, peace/relaxation/calm, music, concentration, silence, imagining, touching/feeling, positive thinking, optimism, and heavenly fantasies.


Beyond the themes extracted from their prose and poetry, here is an additional list of potential titles, ideas, and more themes for future writing lessonsTo conjure up the following list, I reread all of the work and made up mostly titles from the phrases, lines (poetry), and sentences (prose/contemplations), which teachers of all kinds, from upper elementary through high school can use in the classroom:




1. Fathers and Daughters

2. Unloved

3. Cold Love

4. A Funny Way to Show It

5. Don’t Get Me Wrong

6. The Truth

7. Mommy, Daddy, Daughter

8. Getting Things Out in the Open

9. Forgiveness

10. Just Plain Dumb

11. What Makes Me Sad

12. Pulled in All Directions

13. War All Day

14. Go to Your Room

15. Ready to Explode

16. Is It My Fault?

17. Stop Fighting, Please

18. I’m Moving Out

19. The Outcast

20. A Man of Truth

21. The Critical Teacher

22. Don’t Criticize Me

23. Erasing My life

24. I Don’t Know Myself

25. Thinking About Myself

26. In a Sad Mood

27. I Don’t Know Why

28. Don’t Want to Talk

29. Let Me Escape

30. No Place to Hide

31. Locking Myself Inside

32. An Isolated Feeling

33. Run to Life

34. It’s Very Quiet Today

35. My Soul Rising

36. My Spirit

37. Am I Dead or Alive?

38. It’s All in the Mind

39. Thinking About Nothing

40. Coloring Books

41. A Day’s Reflections

42. They’re Sweating Me

43. Ranking Me

44. The Burger King Sneakers

45. I Kept Quiet

46. Nerdy Haircut

47. Fighting Back

48. Why Do They Have To Tease Me?

49. Smiling Faces

50. Inner Music

51. Light It Up

52. Sitting and Thinking

53. Listening to the Words

54. Writing My Life in a Poem

55. We Are All Free

56. Popping Other Kids’ Bubbles

57. The Homeless

58. A Warm Smile

59. Wounded Child

60. A Troubled Mind

61. What Am I Doing in School?

62. Going Through Things

63. Phases of a Kid’s life

64. What Confuses the Mind

65. Illusions and Delusions

66. Flute Music

67. The Echoes I Hear

68. A Peaceful Day

69. The Soft Sounds of Music

70. Silence Is All I Hear

71. At Peace with the World

72. The Beach at Night

73. The Bend in My Dreams

74. Moonlight Reflections

75. Dark Waters

76. Only a Few Stars Tonight

77. You’re So Weird

78. Rose Garden Memories

79. Daffodil Hill

80. Daisy Days

81. Sea Flowers

82. Tulip Town

83. The Butterfly Sky

84. Watermelon Wars

85. Peaches on Beaches

86. The Giant Mango Fantasy

87. The Tootsie Roll Kid

88. A Feeling I Never Had Before

89. Whispering to the Night

90. Days of Prayers

91. Sunny Days

92. Just Drifting

93. Calling All Books

94. Calling All Pigeons

95. All God’s Children

96. The Dream Collector

97. If Only Life Were Peace…

98. No TV Today

99. Mind Music

100. The Last Man on Planet Earth


Please note: After you read the list of potential titles, ideas, and themes for fiction and non-fiction writing, go back to the students’ prose/contemplations and free-verse poetry to find the specific places (phrases, lines, sentences) where I extracted future “sparks” or “prompts” for writing lessons.  I recycled the kids’ ideas and made them into possible subjects for upcoming writing assignments.  With the “recycling” coming from the children’s own work, it would create and conjure up experiences more organically conducive for future writing lessons.


In Part 2 of There’s a Soul Arising in My Mind, you begin to appreciate the after-effects/affects of contemplation, poetry, creativity, creative thinking, thinking, feeling, experiencing, reflection, visualization, recall, and concentration.


To learn about "The Contemplation Music Writing Project," please go to my website, www.JeffreyPflaum.com, to download in-depth articles published by Teachers & Writers Magazine (Teachers & Writers Collaborative, NYC): "Contemplation Writing" and "Here and Now: Nine Meditative Writing Ideas."


Interested in finding out 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 Google Pure Imagination – 07/13/12 | Progressive Radio Network as well 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 link to take you to the podcast page and download it onto your computer, iPad, iPhone, etc.: http://bit.ly/iTFbk7.  You can also go to iTunes and download it for free and play the show this way: 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 prior posts as a BAM Street Journal Blogger on the BAM Radio Network (www.bamradionetwork.com):

  • “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)
  • "Contemplation Writing Leads to Poetry Writing," Part 1 (7/16/12): On this post there is more original student poetry blended with their contemplations (prose)
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.


Further supporting documents such as sample student contemplations and themes culled from their writings can be found at the author’s web site at www.JeffreyPflaum.com.


A recent article in the 2013 New Jersey English Journal, “The Creative Imagination and Its Impact on 21st Century Literacies,” describing my projects in creativity, creative thinking, and creative writing (including “Contemplation Writing”), can be obtained by contacting the author at the following g-mail address: www.jeffreyppflaum@gmail.com.


If you are interested in other programs in mindfulness and contemplation, check out the following:



  • 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.



  • CASEL, Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, at www.casel.org, for 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.

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