Yesterday was the first day of 12 sessions teaching poetry to a group of incarcerated teenage girls.
This is my first time with an all girl group, usually I work with the boys. There were subtle differences, less posturing and more giggling. There were more things in common, one tough kid in the back of the room who carried the chip on her shoulder like a flag. One who was determined to not get involved but then couldn’t help herself. Several that sent out “do not get too close to me” vibes one minute and the begged for attention the next. And one, that one that is always in every class, that just loves poetry, jumps right into everything and has a couple of poems already written that I just have to read (her words) before I go home.
This is also a new facility for me. Not too far of a drive but boy was it hot! When I left the temp outside was 99 degrees. There’s no AC in room, just a fan and the door and windows open which mean we were swatting flies away the entire time. I was impressed that they were able to write with it being so hot.
This is my first time trying out a two hour session. Two hours is a long time when the girls don’t talk a lot but things usually open up after a few sessions. What two hours means is more poetry prompts which yields more poems for them. But I have to break it up so they aren’t writing for two hours straight. This is the part about teaching that is always the hardest for me, trying to figure out how much and exactly what to say to them before giving out a prompt. One friend told me she found that her sessions went better with less talking and more writing. I can see that but I also feel an obligation to teach more. That could also be a pressure I put on myself. I’ll be checking in with myself after each session and see how that evolves.
I started off with telling them a little about me and my writing but it was easy to see that didn’t interest them so we went right to work on a group exercise. I have cards with various emotions on them and let one student pick a card. She picked WORRY so we brainstormed the five senses and how worry would look, taste, sound, smell and feel. This is the group poem they came up with when they were done.
Worry tastes sour like lemons, salty like sweat and tears.
It smells like a wet dog, a dirty diaper, gym socks left in the locker.
Worry feels like sandpaper, snakeskin and it makes your heart ache like you’ve just been stabbed.
Worry sounds like shattering glass, a dripping faucet and all those crazy thoughts debating in my head.
Worry is unrecognizable, like a shadow in an abandoned house.
After that they went on to write more about worry on their own.
Then I read them a few poems without much reaction or interest in participating in the discussion. Hope to do better with that tomorrow.
When I had absolutely no idea what to do next, I pulled out my magazine poetry. I gave each girl a stack of words and phrases cut from magazines and they arranged them into poems. Then they glued them onto paper so they could keep them. I need to find more simple, easy to do in a short amount of time art projects to keep on hand for fillers when needed.
I finished the session with reading them the beginning of Hugging the Rock. I figure I’ll read a bit each session and we should be able to finish the book by the last day.
Not a bad start. The heat complicates everything. (Never done a summer session before.) Now I’m scrambling to put together ideas for tomorrow.
This sounds like fun….for me to read!
I love hearing about these experiences of yours. I know this is not easy. I spent my first two years as a teacher working in an inner-city junior high school in New Jersey. Now, that’s not incarcerated teens, but many of them did end up as such . . . or worse.
They are most definitely a tough crowd. But you know what? You’re a pretty tough gal, too. And I think this experience will be good for them, and you as well.
Re: This sounds like fun….for me to read!
Thanks, Diane. I appreciate the support. Yesterday I told them the story of how we met.
Re: This sounds like fun….for me to read!
THAT is so cool!
That was an unusual post
I can see how hard a workshop session that was… I love bits and pieces of the group poem…I like the idea of adding tangibility to an intangible like ‘worry’.
I just attended a workshop with a poet here in Singapore…it was a letter writing workshop, but being a poet, she added elements of poetry to it. She read poems written as letters, and letters written as poems, and reading your post, I was wondering how these girls would react to writing such things.
Re: That was an unusual post
It’s so funny that you would mention that about letters. I’m working up a lesson plan using, well, not letters, but sealed envelopes that might contain cards or letters. I’ll have to look for some poetic letters to add to this. Thanks for the idea.
how about a worry doll….
AWESOME poem! Can’t wait to see what these ladies come up with next.
Thanks, Kate. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.
Ooh, I love that! I’m going to save it for regular classroom stuff. I can’t use toothpicks in this facility. Pointy sharp object. 🙁
Maybe you could substitute rolling strips of brown bag paper to make the forms and use masking tape to hold it all together, then wrap it with the embroidery floss.
I worked with homicidal/suicidal/fire-starter children in a facility and they did designs on paper that we then ironed onto fabric to make quick banners… I had to hold the iron the whole time and they sent an extra aid-just-in-case.
Nice idea. Thanks!