Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Entering an American high school can be a bit disconcerting, especially when one has to pass through security guards and closed gates at the entrance of the school property, and then through the gamut of cops patrolling the foyer. The specter of Columbine lurks in the back of my mind…

New Mexico is America’s 5th poorest state and it’s certainly evident when one walks Taos High School’s institutional yellow-hued corridors. But the kids in my poetry class belie my expectations. Their parents may be among the poorest in the Union, but their energy and engagement - and pure joy – is so awesome.
Trophy case at THS
There’s also another pretty amazing difference that sets THS apart from any other high school I’ve been in. In the entrance hall, where most schools proudly display showcases of athletic awards, THS has a trophy case full of POETRY achievements! How refreshing to be in a school where art trumps sports!

THS has a long history full of teachers who know the difference poetry can make to a kid’s life, and they’ve found creative ways to engage their students with it. Not only have they cultivated a vibrant and robust slam team who travel the state giving performances, but poetry makes it firmly into the curriculum with two intensive lessons a week. And these kids think poetry is totally cool.

What a joy it is to walk into a classroom of teenagers who are at-the-edge-of-their-seats thrilled to have a real live poet in their midst! No attention flagging here! Nowhere else, even at professional readings, have I experienced the beat-ish reception of finger-snapping to lines and images they appreciate.

What’s it like to be a poet? They ask. How do you structure your day? What do you do about writers’ block? (I asked them the same question back to see if there’s some answer to loosen up mine)

Then, when the kids enthusiastically shared their poems, there was a quiet reverence from the whole class. Respectful listening, careful comments and pure appreciation. These kid-poets are stars! Oh yeah, this is a draft I just had to write last night at one o’clock… They say. I wrote this about my brother who went to Afghanistan… This is a poem for my friends who have committed suicide… Again, I am blown away by young peoples’ talent. What bloody great poems!!

And then I’m back out on the heat-seared street, feeling refreshed by delight, pleasure and a little easing of my own ennui. Onwards, with the gem of poetry in my heart.