A few months ago I had the chance to teach poetry to a group of incarcerated teens.
Today was the reception and opening of the display of the student work at the de Saisset museum at Santa Clara university. The program, Arts Connect, is sponsored by the Arts Council Silicon Valley and connects local artists with at-risk youth hopefully showing them how art can empower them to make changes in their lives.
I am reposting their poem for Poetry Friday because I am so proud of them, of the work they did and I am so happy to have been a part of this program in what could be the very last year. There has been a sudden push to cut the budget for this program.
has a beautiful life to it.
You sound like happiness, sadness, love
taste like fresh strawberries
and feel like soft skin, sandpaper, a brick wall.
Poetry is all the colors of the rainbow
and smells like freedom, incarceration, a sexy girl.
Oh poetry, you drive me crazy.
You make me want to scream, to feel, to heal.
You look like sunshine and moonlight in the city.
Poetry is feelings on paper.
I have been asked to join the Arts Council at the Board of Supervisors meeting next week in order to help convince the board of the importance of this program. I will have one minute to speak on behalf of the Arts Connect program and the impact I was able to make with the challenged youth in my class.
It is I who will be challenged.
How do you capture, in just one minute, the sight of a boy pouring his heart out on the page with no one standing over him telling him he is dumb for doing it? How do you show someone the pride of a young man standing up to read his poem to the class, a poem that exposes the deepest hurting part of himself? How do you tell an audience that the simple act of me showing up every session, no matter what they said or did or tried to do to push me away, that my showing up showed them that someone cared which meant that they were worth caring about, worth saving?
How do I show them the heart of these boys who had never written poetry before, who tried so hard at something so new, and who succeeded beyond my expectations?
What would you say if you had one minute to prove the importance, the impact of art on at-risk youth?
All you would have to do is read that one paragraph you have there it is so powerful.
So much about showing them that there is someone who cares in their lives.
How important their contribution is to you and everyone else.
The only way you can achieve that is if the program was allowed to continue.
– Anne McKenna
That’s exactly what I was going to say! You said it so well already, Susan! Great work on this project!
Thanks, Kim. Looking for my final line to hammer it all home.
Thank you, Anne. I really appreciate your support.
In one minute
First, I would pause. I would look each of them in the eye.
I would announce “Here are some lines from the group poem, written by X (eg nine, ten etc) incarcerated teens.” Then I would read some lines from the group poem, maybe lines 1, 4 and 5.
I would put the paper down, and look at them again, and say,”How do you capture, in just one minute, the sight of a boy pouring his heart out on the page with no one standing over him telling him he is dumb for doing it? How do you show someone the pride of a young man standing up to read his poem to the class, a poem that exposes the deepest hurting part of himself? How do I explain to you that the simple act of me showing up every session, no matter what they said or did or tried to do to push me away, showed these young men that they were worth caring about, worth saving?”
But being an old trouper, I would practise and time myself first!
Best of luck!
Re: In one minute
Thank you! And yes, I am gong to be practicing like crazy. I time that paragraph and right now I’m at 45 seconds. I figure I’ll speed up some from the adrenalin and that will shave 5 seconds so I have 15-20 seconds left. Working on a dynamite last line.
I agree with both posters here. You already know the answer–show, don’t tell. 🙂
What a blessing this program is. I pray that it continues…
Thank you Melodye. I so want this to be able to continue.
I was going to say the exact same thing as prior posters!! I would read some of the most poignant lines/verses from their poems, and then that lovely paragraph beginning with: How do you capture, in just one minute, the sight of a boy pouring his heart out . . .
That is a powerful, beautifully stated argument, Susan.
Thanks Mary Beth! I’m looking for that powerful last line to tie it all together.
my post has no answer…
…all I have to say is: “looks cool!”
Re: my post has no answer…
Thanks. Next time I have to figure out how to attach things better. I tried removable double-stick tape but it kept coming off.
Ditto what everyone else said! You already captured it. What you wrote was very powerful. Are you allowed to take in a posterboard like the one presented above? That also has visual impact.
I don’t know that we will get it released from the museum or if it is allowed but they took pictures of it on display and are bringing those.
You’re doing such wonderful things in this world! Their words — and yours — are so strong, so beautiful. If I could vote twice for you, I would.
And yes: If you could bring in the posterboard (or a slide of it) I think it would have a tremendous impact.
Thank you so much for your kind words and the support. Yes, we will have a display there too.
Beautiful! Good luck at the meeting. One minute? EEP! xoxo
Yeah, one minute. And me who loves to talk so much. LOL
Art for at-risk kids
Here is some information that might help provide more information on the success of programs for at-risk kids:
The Los Angeles Times has an article today in the Saturday, May 9 paper about students making art influenced by Andy Warhol. The student art can be seen at this website: latimes.com/arts
The organization running an exhibition of the art is:
Re: Art for at-risk kids
Thanks, Francie. I appreciate the tip. I’ll go check it out.
I would say that writing is an outlet for emotions and that since the kids have been in the program they have learned to channel their emotions into their poetry. They have learned that violence is not an answer to solve their problems and they have also learned to work with both themselves and an authority figure in a non-threatening environment. When someone produces a work of art, the finished product gives them a sense of accomplishment they might not feel with any other situation. It is their creativity and their work that has produced this product. Seeing it in print shows them that they can have something special that is all theirs. This creates confidence and confidence creates a better self-image. Isn’t this the goal of any program for at-risk students?
That’s what I would say.:) I hope this helps you. I know this program has been an important step for these kids. It would be a shame if the funding were removed.
Thank you Barbara. I was hoping you would weigh in. It is so important that these types of programs continue.
I agree-what you wrote hear is perfect, Susan!
Re: Incerated poetry
Good luck, Susan! I think the work is indescribably important. A good friend of mine works with incarcerated youth in Baltimore, and I know from her stories how difficult and heartbreaking and rewarding it can be, and I admire you both so much!
Thank you, Jessica. It is hard and heartbreaking and yet I really enjoy it.
How can anyone turn a blind eye to the power of this poetry and what it represents.
“Show – don’t tell.” I know you can prove that these types of programs are essential!
All the best!
Re: Poetry Friday
Thanks. Here’s hoping we can convince them.
and I was just wondering, did the young men get a chance to see this display of their work? I know they saw the work itself, but do they know how it was presented?
Unfortunately my group I worked with was in a maximum security unit and unable to attend the reception. However I’ve taken pictures to take over and show them.
It amazes me that politicians cut the programs that reach the trouble spots directly, then pass legislation that bales out the well-heeled and greedy.
This line really got me. “Poetry is feelings on paper.”
I enjoyed reading your posts months ago about your experience. The display the made is awesome. You should be proud of what you did with these teenagers. I know it couldn’t have been easy. It takes someone special to do what you did. I hope for the kids sake that they find the means for this program to continue.