A Sense of Place

The Book of Questions

Developing a sense of place is difficult for many of my students, especially children of migrant families. Map-making, journaling, sharing, and inviting community members for classroom visits are effective strategies, and I find that poetry also contributes to a child’s sense of belonging. One poet who exemplifies what it means to live wholly within a community and the natural world is Pablo Neruda.

Neruda enters our classroom each year with his whimsical, thought provoking, and conveniently bilingual Book of Questions.

Where do the things in dreams go?
Do they pass to the dreams of others?

Donde van las cosas del sueno?
Se van al sueno de los otros?

We read and answer the questions together, while the Spanish-speaking students giggle and correct my pronunciation. We then read the poems Neruda wrote about his home on Isla Negra, and ultimately, the children craft their own poems about sacred places.

Isla Negra

In lieu of summertime professional development courses, workshops or seminars, this year I decided to tap creative inspiration and further develop the connection between poetry and place-based education with a visit to Pablo Neruda’s home on Isla Negra.

Sea urchin, erizo, seaweed, alga, seaquake, maremoto… A bilingual collection of Neruda’s words between briny, site-specific excerpts of poems fills the pages of a red journal in my back pocket. To prep the senses for my trip, I return to the poems that inspire my students. “It is the poet who must sing with his countrymen and give to man all that is man: dream and love, light and night, reason and madness. But let’s not forget the stones!” I found this reminder of the poet’s role in a library book entitled Neruda at Isla Negra. The “stones” and craggy shores inspired many of his poems, whose truths stir my spirit.

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