Lesson 20.7: Reading Connection

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Pasture Poetry

How many cows does it take to write a poem? Nathan Banks figured that 64 would do the trick.

Banks, an art student at Purchase College in New York State, took on an unusual literature project. He picked a list of words from an art history book and painted those words on a herd of cows. Each bovine got just one word painted on its side. Banks hoped that as the cows moseyed around a field, they would come together with their words forming poetic phrases.

“I thought it would be cool to write on animals and have the animals graze and make poetry,” said Banks of his senior project.

Gerald Ruestow, a farmer living in Sidney Center, N.Y., gave Banks permission to conduct the project on the Ruestow family farm. Banks worked around the cow's milking schedule, painting each animal with 1-foot-tall orange letters outlined in blue.

“I took a lot of time with each cow,” Banks said. “First I introduced myself to each one—they all have names—and I stroked their sides and hugged them, so they would relax.”

The project was a “moo-ving” experience! Banks and about two dozen other students observed the cows as they roamed for three days. The students used cameras and camcorders to document this poetry in motion.

The cows responded by forming such phrases as “experience farm music,” “nature imagined,” and “performance as cow environment.”

It seemed as if the cows enjoyed the literary spotlight. Farmer Ruestow noted that the cows actually produced more milk during the three-day project because they “...were a little more active,” he said.

Banks said this about his work, “The project combines my two worlds—upstate New York and Purchase. This is also about chance, and why I came from upstate New York and why I'm making art,” he added.

Word Wise

A group of writings, such as stories and poetry: Biographies are my favorite kind of literature.

Of or relating to cows: The antelope is a bovine animal.

Move around slowly in any direction: At the fair, we moseyed around from one booth to another.

Prove something by recording it in some way: The old painting documents the settlers' arrival in the new world.

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You know that the word bovine means “of or relating to cows.” Use a dictionary to find out what kind of animals each of these “–ine” words refers to.

  • equine
  • feline
  • canine
  • porcine
  • ursine
  • elephantine

Data Hunt

You have learned how to make an organized list. Take a lesson from the cow project and use this skill to write your own “poems.” You will need a stack of index cards or small pieces of paper and a favorite storybook. Here's what to do.

Step 1: Choose two or three sentences from your book. Write each of the words from these sentences on a separate card.

The cows formed poetry by chance. Now put down your cards in an organized way to see what poetic phrases you can create “by chance”!

Step 2: Take any one card and put it face up in front of you. Try placing each of the other cards to the right of the first card, one after the other. Record any two-word pairs that make sense.

Step 3: Now try putting each of the other cards from the stack to the right of each of the two-word pairs that you wrote down. Then record any three-word phrases that you think sound poetic.

Step 4: Repeat steps 2 and 3 again and again. Each time, try another of the cards in the first position. They try each of the other cards in the second and third positions. Continue recording any poetic two- and three-word phrases that you like.

Step 5: Share your poetry with a partner, a small group, or the whole class. Before you do this, decide what to call your poetry. Nathan Banks's project created cow poetry. What kind of poetry is yours?