Mentor Text Wednesday – Elegies for Lost Voices

Mentor Text: Elegies for Lost Voices – four poems by Scott Nolan.


  • Writing Elegies


Maybe this is because I spent time last night listening to Gordon Lightfoot in the wake of his passing.

A tribute to Gordon Lightfoot by one of my favourite political cartoonists, Bruce MacKinnon

Maybe it’s because I need to prep a lesson plan for next week in my Lit class where we’re writing about music these days.

Whatever the reason, I pulled Scott Nolan’s book of poetry off my desk at work this morning, and pulled together four poems that are elegies for musicians we’ve lost. I always appreciate the way musicians write about other musicians, particularly as they remember those we’ve lost. (I’ve featured Nolan’s poetry here before. Like many of my texts, his book is full of flags for classroom use, with some marked MTW to share with you.)

How we might use this text:

Writing Elegies – I really love using music in the classroom. In this year’s Lit class, we’ve discussed the universality of it, the importance of it in our lives. When artists pass, we feel it.

I feel like I don’t do it enough, but having a mentor text set is wonderful. Sometimes, when there’s a single text as a mentor text, there’s a fair amount of “parroting” in some students’ writing. Though that is part and parcel of working with mentor texts at times, I feel a mentor text set really encourages writers to expand beyond a “cover version” of a text, and to perhaps pull from different influences to approach something original.

Thes four poems from Nolan do different things. ‘Telecaster Tears’ about Prince evokes one of his most known songs, as well as the colour purple, so widely associated with him. It expresses the loss, almost having nature react. ‘The Man Who Walks Amongst the Stars’ celebrates Gord Downie, describing him, while commenting on the identity and community Canadians found in his songs. ‘Nickel Down’ written for Guy Clark almost reads like an excerpt from a larger tribute, like the poetic parts pulled from a eulogy. ‘Dear Leonard’ reads differently than the others, written as an open letter to Leonard Cohen, knowing that all of us are reading and wondering the same things.

Again, a set of mentor texts, showing different approaches to a task gives us a chance to discuss craft between assigning and doing the task. Writers considering the moves made by Nolan, having writerly conversations about what might transpire in their own writing only encourages better writing.

I’ve been pulling together a handful of things around this idea of writing about musicians we’ve lost for a while now, but the fact that Nolan featured a number of these elegies in his book was the catalyst for this being a poetic piece of writing. Having a ready made mentor text set is wonderful.

Do you have any elegies that you use? Are there any writers who have crafted a set of mentor texts that you love using?

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

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