Monday, March 21, 2016

Power of Performing Poetry

Today is World Poetry Day, which falls each year on the cusp of our National Poetry Month celebration during the month of April. I love this time of year! Spring is in the air, and my daily writing prompts are peppered with verse. We'll spend time throughout the month connecting poems to our course readings and sharing favorite verses on Poem in Your Pocket Day. There is such potential in poetry - the potential of connection, of passion, and emotion. It is for this reason that I weave poetry throughout all of my units, but I love having the opportunity (and excuse) to dwell more deeply in lines of verse at this time each year. And this year, I got a bit of an early start.

I cried in class this past Friday, and it was all Poetry's fault.  Okay, it was poetry performed by some amazing local poets that brought me to tears. And I wasn't alone. I heard from many students who were deeply moved by the verses performed by the Grand Rapids' collective known as Diatribe when they visited our school this past Friday. Throughout Friday and again today, teachers and students described and recited the lines they have been carrying around with them since Friday morning, the lines that cling and reverberate. Through the support of a Donors Choose grant, I was able to bring four members of the group - Fable, May Day, Rachel Gleason, and G. Foster II - into my high school to share their work with a group of public speaking, creative writing, and ninth and tenth grade English students. Each poet performed two original pieces and led our group through an exercise that had us reflecting on all that connects us.

Perhaps my most memorable moment from this morning came as I was asking my students to reflect and respond to the pieces shared by the member of Diatribe.  Students were enthusiastic, but I don't think I will soon forget Ethan's response. Ethan is a no-nonsense senior. He is the definition of pragmatic.  "Ms. Ward, I don't like all that touchy feely kinda stuff. But, yeah, they were good. Really good." It doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, but trust me, it is.

Like me, many students felt overwhelmed and awed at the trust and courage demonstrated by the poets. "Ms. Ward, I kinda felt bi-polar. I can't believe I laughed and cried so much in just 55 minutes." Students called out favorite lines and shared connections that they made with the poets over the weekend. "Ms. Ward, I looked up May Day on Facebook, and she got back to me," squealed one of my tenth grade students. "She shared links to all her work!"  Students asked me look up the poets' websites while in class today. "Ms. Ward, can you pull up Gray Theory? That's Foster's group. Can we listen to him again?"  Over the weekend, on their own time, my students were thinking about poetry. The words of these performance poets hit home. Their lines echoed truth and connected us. This is the power of poetry.
Photo by reporter Darcy Meade of the Ionia Sentinel-Standard

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