Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Every writer

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
 "I did it! I didn't think I could write a poem, and I did!" M. beams up at me, eyes twinkling under her elegant hijab.

By the time I'm halfway down her page, the hubbub of writers around me has completely faded away. It's just me and her words on this creamy notebook page. "Whoa. Your repetition and parallelism are really powerful! How did you decide to do that?" The day before, she was whining that she couldn't write a poem, and now these beautiful lines have flowed right out of her heart.

As I peer over shoulders and chat with other writers, I'm struck by two extremes. At the beginning of April, when I showed them my SOLSC reflection poem, their astonishment at the idea that a regular person could write a poem was palpable. ("Wait, how long did it take you to write that?!") Now, many of them echo M.'s transformation into proud poets as if they've breathed in our recent weeks of poem study and are now exhaling beautifully crafted lines of imagery, tone, and figurative language. 

On the other hand, some of their tortured, trapped classmates still writhe in their seats, tongue-tied. "I don't know how to do this! I can't write a poem!" Despite all the strategies I've suggested over the past few days, they are paralyzed. ("But Mrs. M, we're ELL students!" one whimpered last week, as if she hadn't just written 13 incredibly well-crafted slices of life in a month.) How can I get their lines to stream out onto the page too?

As H., my first poet who started to play with poetry at the end of March, gushes to me about how he doesn't even want to write stories anymore, just poetry, it hits me. "Hey, would you like to talk to the class about how you think as you write your poems?" Maybe they need to hear from others who have been right there, stuck, unsure, just weeks or days or moments ago. We've purposely moved on to studying former student mentor poems over the past few days, instead of published poems, and I've been working on a new poem in front of them, but H's enthusiasm and M's proud shift have reminded me how much emotion is tied up into poetry. These writers have mostly unlocked their hearts and minds enough to tell their mighty stories this year, but poetry carries a whole new level of trepidation for those who have never seen themselves as writers, let alone poets. 

We've done enough talking this year about pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones that, even though speaking out in a group is still one of his most significant areas of discomfort, H. stutters his way to assent. When I nudge her, M. gulps and agrees too, and so does R., who tried a couple of poems right away in early April after seeing H.'s poem slices.

The next class, instead of another mini-lesson by me, I invite all three of them to share about how they created their poems. Every eye in the meeting area is pinned to the screen. "I started by finding the feeling I wanted to show," H. softly declares. "When I wanted to think of a picture, I closed my eyes so I could really see it..." 
(The ending of one of his March slice poems!)
The only side whispers are of thoughtful admiration. "I tried to feel like I was talking to a special friend," R. reveals. "I wanted to put my honest feelings." She gestures toward her line breaks. "I said the words out loud and tried to stop the lines where I'd slow down or finish a thought..."
(The beginning of one of hers!)
Supportive applause, nods, thoughtfully furrowed brows. "I thought it would be cool to repeat these lines to show how much my mom means to me." Her graceful abaya swishes as she shrugs and grins. "I thought I couldn't write a poem, but I did!" 
(The first 2 stanzas... isn't the repetition awesome?)
Work time goes in waves of louder-than-I'd-like-it-but-they're-really-helping-each-other and so-quiet-the-room-next-door-must-think-we-left. Poem lines are dripping through the classroom like spring raindrops. One by one, line by line, they are coming unfrozen. One by one, line by line, they're discovering that Charles Bukowski was right when he proclaimed that “everybody is a writer, and almost every writer is a poet.”