Wednesday was the fourth session of the new Incarcerated teens poetry class.

This time I felt prepared. I had some great poems to share. I had a couple of good exercises planned that I felt would help them probe some feelings. I was feeling like I knew just what I needed to do. Until I walked in the door.

As things were getting started the teacher mentioned that they had been asking about love poems and she had given them a couple of famous (translation, very old) love poems but they just couldn’t get into them. So I dropped the lesson plan I had in mind and went out of the box, which is never an easy thing for me.

One of the poems they had was How Do I Love Thee? and they just couldn’t get into. Well I’ve never tried to dissect that particular poem but we took a stab at talking our way through it together. Then we brainstormed all the different ways they could show someone they loved them without ever using the word love. This was a fun exercise because they started off silly, talking about making googely eyes at someone but then they got into the real stuff and talked about respect and listening and nurturing. Their words, not mine. When the board was full of words it was easy to see a pattern – many of the words they chose to describe love were also words that were showing up in the positive word book. A lightbulb moment perhaps for at least one of them.

We talked a bit about list poems and I had them do a quick one to get in the writing mood. I tore sentences from magazines that were questions and passed one out to each kid. Then I asked them to answer the question in a list. Those were the only rules. As always, they impressed me with the way they were instantly able to jump outside the realm of the expected and go somewhere else.

After that I gave them the assignment to write a love poem that never mentioned the word love. Though they grumbled a bit they soon got into it. The concept of freewriting is still new to them but once they put their heads down and get going, they really generate a lot of great words.

There was a new kid who joined the class this session. He had the haunted eyes of someone new to the system, wondering what it was he was supposed to do or so in order to pass the invisible test. Looking at him I was reminded of where I was, what these boys had done to get them here, and how, sadly, not all of them would be saved or changed by their experience.

It made me want to go around the room and hug each of them.

My word for this session is CURIOUS.