Writing with Teens

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.

It’s All About Community

Yesterday, I took part of a panel discussion at the Osterhout Library in Wilkes-Barre in celebration of National Poetry Month. I could talk for hours and hours about my relationships with poetry and why I love the genre, but that’s not why I enjoyed this event. I liked it because I looked out and saw young people in the audience, including one high schooler with a stack of books, and an elementary student. Both have an interest in writing, and they were wide-eyed and on the edge of their seats while we talked about the writing process and our key influences.

After the event, I thought about how lucky I am to live in an area that has events like this. Throughout April, Osterhout is running a series of free poetry workshops. The library has also held various poetry and prose readings, and it publishes a literary magazine, Word Fountain. A few blocks down from the library, there is a reading series the third Friday of every month at ArtSEEN Gallery in Wilkes-Barre, and Scranton includes the Prose in Pubs series and the New Visions series. As I chatted with the two young members of the audience yesterday, I thought about how important community is to writing, how we need mentors and friends involved in the writing process because no one outside of such a community cares that we write.

Students in one of my creative writing classes this semester understand the importance of community, since they decided to create a writing workshop outside of class. I’m also starting to see more and more students at various literary events in the community. That’s what it’s all about, supporting each other, guiding each other, and forming something bigger than one’s own writing.