Today was the seventh of twelve sessions teaching poetry to a group of incarcerated teenage girls.
We had a substitute teacher, the same one we had a week ago and that the girls have quite often. They should have been fine but they were rowdy, talkative, up and down all the time. When I came in two girls had already had incident reports filed on them. One more had been yanked out to talk to a counselor and mental health pulled a different girl out every ten minutes for check-ins which makes all the girls uncomfortable.
I persevered but I knew right away it wasn’t going to be one of their better days.
Several of the girls had pulled prompt cards on Monday so they could write on their own time. I didn’t know if anyone would share but three of them did. Long poems. I was pleased and they immediately asked if they could have new prompts for today. (At the end of class 4 girls took 2 prompts each.)
The word of the day was SATISFACTION.
Here’s their group poem.
Satisfaction smells like victory.
It tastes like your favorite food, something you just cooked, sweat dripping off your cheeks after you win a softball game.
Satisfaction feels like a ton of weight lifted off your shoulders, a medal hanging around your neck.
It looks like somebody climbing the highest mountain in the world
Satisfaction sounds like windchimes, applause, someone chanting your name over and over again.
We did individual poems on satisfaction but too many of them veered off into inappropriate topics. We tried “I seemed to be, but really I am” poems and we had rounds of “I don’t get”, “this is dumb” and “I’m done,” even though the page was blank.
We tried some “I am” poems.
We tried to talk about Langston Hughes and “a dream deferred”.
We brainstormed nouns, adjectives, emotions, and verbs on the board, picked a few out of each column and wrote poems on that.
I handed out prompt cards of unfinished sentences and had them finish the sentence and write a list poem.
Some girls wrote. Some girls popped up and down and asked to sharpen their pencil before every poem.
When I stopped to ask one girl if she needed help she asked me if I thought they were doing good today. I asked her what she thought. She said she didn’t think they were having a very good day. She was right.
When I told them there were no treats to hand out today no one argued with me. They knew.
It wasn’t the best day but it wasn’t the worst. As the substitute they had today said, all we can do is come in with a pure and open heart. The rest is up to them.
all in all sounds like a good day! They are lucky to have someone that will take the time to be with them.
Thanks. They really seem to have gotten the knack of this type of warm-up poem very well.
Today was not the best day for me either. We all get up in the morning with great expectations. Sometimes the day goes as we plan I call those days a bonus. Most days don’t…As long as we keep rising to the challenges that life throws at us we will make it.
I truly believe that and I believe that you will come away from this experience a better person. I know this because you will have a true appreciation for the freedom that you enjoy everyday.
With a pure and open heart.
– Anne McKenna
Thanks, Anne. Every time I finish one of these residencies I am both relieved and empowered.
I’m impressed by the sheer variety of approaches you’re trying. Each one is a gift, and so is your honest discussion of how this class is going. Thank you for sharing it with us.
Thanks, Amy. I always love reading about what other people do when they teach so I had hoped others felt the same way.
They are going through my bag of tricks rapidly! I’m off to research more unique ways of teaching to see if I can get some new ideas.
First off, belated Happy Birthday, Susan!!! I hope you had a day filled with good stuff, and that the coming year brings you much love and laughter.
Second off, this all sounds so promising. Real people interacting under difficult circumstances, coming together under your poetic guidance. Hooray for all of you!!!
You’re quite right!
Thanks for the birthday wishes, Tracy.
Wednesday was still pretty rowdy for me. Today was better. The girls are writing some amazing poems.
Today was better! Woohoo! You’re on a roll, sister. Go, Susan, go!! Go, writer girls, go!!