Circus Circus Assignment


For the first assignment, I asked students to hand their red ticket–stamped Admit One–to the ticket taker, a mime, then go into the Big Top circus tent. I asked them to engage all of their senses as they walked around, to use –ing with their verbs in order to give the reader a more present, intense experience. I reminded them to think of all the different kinds of animals that are in a circus, the various kinds of food for sale; I asked them, if they wanted, to include dialog–and gave examples of things that might be heard at a circus.

For the second assignment, I asked the students to forget about that ticket, forget about being a kid, forget about being human! Now, I said, you are a lion, a very young lion, and this is your first circus performance. you have been practicing and rehearsing with your lion tamer (do you like him or her? how do you feel about that lion tamer?) for months and months–and today’s the big day! The lion tamer rolls your cage out into the center, the biggest, most fancy, ring in the circus. The orchestra is playing the music that introduces you–it’s louder than ever before–the people are clapping and yelling, and the lion tamer opens the door to your cage. You step out . . .   What happens???

I prompted them with, “Does everything go according to plan? If not, what happens? If everything does according to plan, what does that look like? What do you do, what tricks? Or, if something went wrong, what did that look like, what did it sound like, how did people react? How does it feel to be a young lion ‘on stage’ in the circus, with everybody watching and waiting, for the very first time ever?”


About deniselanier

I am an educator & advocate, poet & performer, speaker & storyteller who believes in the power of narrative to transform & transport, create & connect. I was the shy, awkward girl who didn’t fit in, was often bullied, happiest with my nose in books, whose best friend was my dog. After being cast in a play in my teens I discovered a way to be comfortable in my own skin, bringing to life the words of a character. Costumed in make-believe I dared to be more of myself than I ever allowed off-stage; I claimed my voice. I spent most of my adult life teaching others to raise their own voices, through acting, creative writing, even slam poetry. When the diagnosis of MS intervened in my 30s I had to let go of acting, which is why most of my storytelling is now expressed through page and less “formal” interactions with stages. I devote much of my time to kids, teaching them to use words & imagination, developing authentic, resilient, remarkable voices. I endeavor to grow in my students the belief, the truth, that we are all artists & the change-makers in our own stories. My best friend still has fur & four legs. My mobility assistance dog is my constant companion, teaching assistant & muse to many. Luke is also chief partner in crime; I’m getting a reputation for stealing things. As inventor of a poetic form called klepto-collaborative, I pickpocket words & phrases from others, reshuffling & reshaping the puzzle-pieces into a colorful, storied mosaic of diverse voices. Taking something from every speaker at a conference in real-time, I craft a collective poem that highlights the messages of the day, repurposing ideas & refashioning stories, weaving them together in a manner that never loses the originality & spirit of the speakers’ themes. So while I may be a word thief, I figure being eco-conscious makes up for it. I’m available to facilitate wordy goodness in your community, school, workplace or play space. I like to think I have way of transforming annual meetings into something interactive, cooperative & memorable. Through my klepto-collaborative poems I aim to delight, to ignite conversation, and maybe even incite innovation. I earned an MFA from Florida International University, where I edited Gulf Stream Literary Magazine. I’m the founder of WordPlay, a poetry-in-the-schools project inspired by Dave Eggers. My poetry has appeared in Bloomsbury Review, Cake, Luna, Best American Poetry blog (a collaborative poem with the phenomenal Denise Duhamel), Wicked Good Life, and various anthologies. My non-fiction has appeared in the Miami Herald and my fiction has been nominated for Best New American Voices. &

One response »

  1. What made you choose the circus? Is it in town right now? I really love the drawings. My favorite of the kids’ poems is the one where the kid talks about having laser beam eyes. Often times I wish I could burn people with laser beam eyes or turn into a lion to chase them down.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s