Mentor Text Wednesday: The Night Attendant at the Gas Station

Mentor Text: The Night Attendant at the Gas Station by Michael Penny


  • Extended metaphor
  • Imagery
  • Memoir


I’m going to pass along what may seem like a somewhat pithy piece of teaching advice.

Zero inbox is your friend.

Sometimes, the image search is really fun! via Zazzle

Since school resumed after the holidays, I delete or file everything almost instantly. (professionally and personally) It also means that I make a point of reading the daily poetry email I get that doesn’t get auto-sorted into a folder, and have been flagging some great poems for classroom use.

How we might use this text:

Extended metaphor – For a lot of our students, I’m sure work is a big part of their life. If it isn’t, there’s likely something that is just as time-consuming. Penny’s poem is a great example of using extended metaphor to explore this. His choice of metaphor is powerful too, literally and figuratively. How are you empowered at work? How could you present your position as something more lofty? What language from that loftier post can you use to elevate the trappings of your job?

Imagery – This extended metaphor works so well because of the imagery. As Penny juxtaposes the gas station attendant and a member of the clergy, he paints a pretty concrete image of the gas station attendant. Whether you’ve done that job, or just gotten gas late at night, you can picture it. And using language like “vestments” to describe the uniform of the attendant adds that extra bit of “oomph” to this piece.

Memoir – A thing I’ve been trying to do more in memoir is what Penny does here, capturing a small, visceral slice of life. There is a place, as I said above, that each of our students spends a lot of time, out of passion or out of necessity. This poem, with its imagery and extended metaphor is an excellent way to explore that part of their life.

A great mentor text, like this one, often has not just a catalyst for great writing, but good conversation too. I anticipate the students that share a workplace helping each other find their metaphors to explore, to find the mundane moments to elevate. One of the things that I forget to mention here is how rich that writerly talk is, and how much it, fueled by the right mentor text, can benefit our writers’ work.

What email from your inbox bears the most fruit in your classroom? If you’re writing beside your students, what’s your chosen metaphor for our position?

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy!

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