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WITS Spotlight: An Interview with Kathleen Flenniken WITS Spotlight: An Interview with Kathleen Flenniken JAN 31, 2012

At View Ridge Elementary, Kathleen Flenniken teaches poetry as a part of Writers in the Schools (WITS). Flenniken works with the entire 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades, which means she has the opportunity to see the same students grow and change year after year. Flenniken says “they’re really developing a mind for metaphor right when I have them. I can see them learning to make connections; I watch their brains click into this other mode. Each year they’re better equipped. By 5th grade I barely have to tell them what to do.”

Flenniken herself came to poetry late, but that doesn’t stop her from helping others to find it early. She says that poetry is all about finding a way to express yourself, whether you are in your 30s or 3rd grade. She says that poetry is great because “you don’t have to be young to start; you can bring your whole life to it and it will reveal itself to you.”

Teaching poetry to elementary students does provide some challenges – the subject can be daunting and students can become frustrated or feel like they are doing it wrong – but as someone who has faced these fears in her own writing, Flenniken is the perfect person to show students how accessible poetry can be. For her, the focus is on discussing poetry in a way that makes students feel like they have valid ideas, valid opinions. Coming to poetry on her own meant that she could choose what she liked and leave the rest. Now she offers this same privilege to her students, encouraging them to find out what interests them in poetry. She wants little kids to feel like they’re allowed to say they do or don’t like an image or a line in a poem, to trust their own feelings and opinions. With music, “we find what we like and cast the rest aside. That’s at the very core of becoming a poet – coming to terms with what works for you and what doesn’t.”

Flenniken is the author of two books of poems; Famous, published in 2006, and Plume, to be released this spring by the University of Washington Press. The poems, which have been called “nuclear-age songs of innocence and experience,” explore and are informed by the Hanford Site and its accompanying town, Richland, Washington, both of which figure heavily in Flenniken’s past as well as the past of the nation as a whole. Kathleen will be reading from Plume several times this spring:

--Open Books - A Poem Emporium on Sunday,March 18 at 3:00.
--at the closing reception for the "Particles on the Wall" Exhibit about Hanford at Odegaard Library - Room 220 on UW Campus on Thursday, March 29 at 7:00 pm
--alongside Boston poet Martha Collins at Elliott Bay Books on Monday April 2 at 7:00.

To learn more about Kathleen, visit her website at

To learn more about her teaching at View Ridge Elementary, visit the WITS blog.


- written by Kori Lynn, WITS Intern

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