“Perennial Sweet Alyssum” by Jonathan Charles Stephens (US)

Issue 3.3          November 2021

Read the piece here.


Pre-Reading Quick Write:


Consider something in nature that inspires you. Close your eyes, sketch a picture, or simply reflect upon that location or element of nature. Visualize the place; concentrate on the sensory details. Write for five minutes, brainstorming, listing, or explaining any and all attributes that come to mind as you recall that natural form, element, or feature that you admire. For instance, you might describe the banter of crickets on a summer night, the dawn light in a desert, a jovial gathering of pigeons in a city park, the thunderous cascades of a waterfall, or a seal diving under water and ice in search of fish. Expound your admiration by considering a variety of concepts:

  • physical appearance and sensory elements

  • biome, habitat, or climate (or effect of changing climate)

  • relationship with its surrounding ecosystem—and your relationship with this place

  • details you’ve observed or read about

  • lifespan, life cycle, or changes in appearance over time/seasons

  • proliferance or endangered status

  • other ideas? Keep going!


Discuss:


  1. According to the title and final stanza, what does the speaker appreciate about the alyssum? Why might these traits be admirable in a plant—or, perhaps, in a person?

  2. In this poem, the poet makes observations about the seasons of nature and the passage of time. Since January 2020, citizens the world over have experienced a different sort of season while coping with the global pandemic of COVID-19. Reflect upon and discuss any observations you can make about nature, seasons, time, and this altered state of the world during the pandemic.


Write:

  1. Poem: Revisit your quick-write exercise or choose a new aspect of nature, and write a poem in second person in which you address, and champion, the qualities of this natural element that most move you. Write in free verse (no rhyme, no defined meter) so you can focus on your word choice, imagery, and poetic devices. Allow your meaning, and what you are revealing about yourself through your admiration of this natural element, take center stage in the poem.

  2. Comparative Essay: An essay that compares and contrasts two poems is another way of analyzing the theme, structure, and devices of each poem. The differences between them further highlight their individual meanings. Read “The Storm” by Mary Oliver and write a comparative essay that explores the speaker’s relationship with nature in this poem compared to the speaker’s relationship with nature in “Perennial Sweet Alyssum.” What do they each admire about the natural scene they are observing? How does the scene—or their reaction to it— relate to their own longings as individuals? How do the structures of each poem serve their purpose for the meaning or the effect on the reader? Read more about how to develop your own comparative essay from this “Bitesize” lesson from the BBC.


We hope you and your students enjoy reading and discussing Write the World Review issue 3.3. We hope these writing prompts and discussion questions lead to fruitful discussion, thoughtful analysis, and creative writing in your class. Please reach out to our teacher liaison Lori Pelliccia  (lori@writetheworld.com) with your suggestions and feedback. We'd love to hear which activities you used in class and how we can best support you with our future writing projects and lesson plans. If you have a  moment to provide some feedback on this survey we'd be very appreciative. We look forward to hearing from you, and we wish you and your students all the best in your reading and writing endeavors!

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