I want to give a shout out to the fine folks at the Osterhout Library for letting me teach a poetry workshop for teens last week, in honor of National Poetry Month. The workshop was just what I needed, as the semester winds down and I, like my college students, start to feel the burnout that comes with a waning school year. At first, I was unsure if the workshop would be successful, since every teen wrinkled their noses confessed to me that they dislike poetry and don’t want to write it.
However, I first wanted to share with them contemporary poets and ideas that I thought they could relate to. I handed them a packet containing poems about teen/parent relationships and poems about place/location. We launched into Maria Mazziotti Gillan’s poem “Betrays.” After I read the poem out loud, I was surprised by the number of comments. In fact, their comments were on the same level as some of my college literature courses. We probably could have spent the entire workshop discussing their poems and their reaction, but I wanted them to write. I wanted them to overcome that hurdle and their disdain for the genre. I gave them a simple prompt, in response to Maria’s poem. Write about your parents or a specific childhood memory.
At first, 20 minutes passed, and then 30. They barely looked up from their paper. By the end of the block of time, they each had a solid draft. One teen told me that he never tried writing before, but now he wants to start a writing group! Another teen mined his memory to address the day his dad left. Heavy stuff! We went over one more poem and did one more prompt. By the end, their minds opened to poetry, and I committed to doing another poetry workshop with them at some point, most likely over the summer. This is what National Poetry Month should be all about, not worrying so much about publication credits, but reaching communities that need poetry as a means of expression and communities that may not be that exposed to the art form.