Creative High School Students Merge Poems with Paint

Stone Gray. Cleopatra’s Gown. May Apple. What do they have in common? Creative paint names and poetic imagery in Ode to Color poems for one Carmel High School creative writing class.

Virtual Paint Swatch Gallery

Carmel High School English teacher Denise Trach engages her students in an imaginative and colorful way using paint swatches as inspiration for their creative writing. For her lesson in “Paint Chip Poetry,” Trach asked students to visit the virtual color gallery on a paint manufacturer’s website and choose a variety of colors that spoke to them.

“One day at Home Depot it just came to me when I saw the paint cards,” said Trach, who has been doing this lesson with her students for several years. “The way the colors were grouped made me think of gradation of emotion, which made me think of poetry. I am always looking for fresh ways to hook my students.”

Trach began this lesson having the students do word associations with the different color swatches. She prompted them with words like “hope” “dream” and “possibility” and the students chose a paint swatch that they believed represented the word. The students also used the paint swatch names to answer sentence starters and create images using the name of the paint color as the final word: “When he left, my heart was Stone Gray.”

After exploring odes written to colors by various poets, the students are given the creative room to free-write their own versions. Trach finds that students enjoy this lesson because it is an activity they feel comfortable completing.

"I learned how to brainstorm ideas based on personal experience, meshed with details from outside of my own memory, to create something more sensory,” said junior Mohamed Hussain. “My favorite part was putting my thoughts to words, it really helped me dig back into my memory and it was very relaxing to just write something that I deeply connect with.”

“I am always floored by what the students write.” said Trach. “It gives me goosebumps to have them read aloud and hear their own voices, literally and figuratively. I absolutely love that part of my job – being a conduit for teens to find their voice.”

Poem by Mohamed Hussain

Sad is Steeple Gray; it looms over all
and leaves you there helpless as shadow is cast onto your soul
the same color as Cleopatra's Gown.

Wild and free you wish to live
but happiness is fleeting
like a May Apple.

They sway in the wind among the trees.
Only to disappear by the end of the season
or to be picked by someone you don't know.

A large tree in the Cinnamon Stone present
is what you wish you were.

Ode to Brown by Mohamed Hussain

Stripped bark.
Dead, dried up leaves.
A lone dear.
Quiet autumn meadow.

Lifeless body, small hairs on the floor,
A friend you once had,
Their eyes, your eyes.

Open eggs in a basket, twine.
Last night’s door
Slammed shut
His boots strewn lazily.

Cracked violin, one string hanging off.
Pecans lying open in light

Cinnamon, so much it burns your nose.
Pennies, in a small bag
The color of you.

Old, charred cigarettes
Down to the butts, tossed
In an open cup.

Tattered, old sweater,
Never really has been used.
Caramel, all melted.

Wrinkled rug,
What remains of the “living” room.
Blank walls, unchanged
But somehow not the same.

Sparrow singing love songs
Love you, love them.