Today was the sixth of 7 poetry sessions with a group of incarcerated young men.

It was not a good day. Not good at all. Before we even started the guard gave them another talking to about being quiet and listening to me and paying attention. I think his speaking up has made it more difficult for me but I don’t feel like I can say anything to him because of the situation I am working in.

We did love poems. It was their idea. But of course they suggested it a few sessions ago and I made them wait until today. My thought was that since it was their idea they would be more into it. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

I read some love poems. I even read an I love you NOT poem by Bruce Lansky. They laughed. They started quoting song lyrics. So we brainstormed love terms on the board. I started simple and asked them to think about the little candy Valentine’s Day hearts and what was written on them. I wrote the words on the board. Then they started calling out longer phrases, good ones. I wrote them on the board.

We worked together a bit more and then I turned them loose to work on their own love poem….or not love poem. The grumbling rose.

“I don’t love anyone. I have nothing to say. I don’t want to do this. I’m bored. This is stupid.”

Most of the comments were familiar. I got variants of the same ones every visit and eventually they would knuckle down and start to write.

The boy who gave me so much trouble the first couple of sessions complained and then actually wrote something honest to who he was.

Then when I went around to read and help I asked one boy if he said he had someone to write about and he said yes. He was about 10 inches from my face and he kept his voice low enough so that he and I were the only ones who heard. He said, “You. I hate you.You got me in trouble. I talked to staff and they said you told them I was causing trouble. You screwed up my program and now I can’t do anything. It’s all your fault. I hate you. I wish you’d never come. ” and so much more.

I kept telling myself not to buy into their drama but in the back of my mind there was this running voice saying mean things myself like, “I didn’t say anything. You got yourself in trouble. And much more.”

Then I went to one of the other boys who is usually cooperative and he said he wanted to write about this girl that he liked but he got locked up before he got the chance to tell her that he liked her. So we talked about how he could start it and he had written down, “I never told you” and I told him that would be a great list poem (we’ve done those) and he could start every line with that and figure out a frame for the beginning and the ending. So then he wanted to brainstorm some more and I was thinking that finally he was back with the program. I’m throwing out ideas and I said, “I never told you that I watch you….” and I’m thinking about how you watch someone across the room and he explodes and said I was calling him a stalker and went off for several minutes and stopped writing for the rest of the session.

Two of them yelled at me that everything had to rhyme or it was no good, even though we have discussed that poems don’t need to rhyme.

The good artist said he was going to tear up all his drawings and he didn’t want me to share anything at the museum. Then the other good artist said the same thing, that he didn’t want anything posted in the museum. After that no one wanted anything to be displayed, even though their names won’t be on them.

I felt like a babysitter who got locked in the bathroom while the kids I was supposed to be taking care of turned the house upside down. No steps forward today.

I don’t know how many steps backward.

Wednesday is my last day with them. It is hard to think about what to do for the final session. My plan was to do part day of writing, I don’t know what kind yet, and then, party time. I got permission to bring in some snacks for them though I have to say, it was hard to make myself go shopping for them after a day like this.

Grade for the day. B minus.

Today I’m finding it hard to see that what I am doing there is making any sort of difference.