Thoughts and Feelings in Paper and Poetry
Thanks to the ever-changing lexicon of today’s youth, I am no longer allowing myself to abbreviate the word “thought” to “thot” while writing rapidly—the meaning, it seems, has become something distasteful. But at least it makes for a good topic in adolescent poetry.
This was just one of the discoveries I made after my first day of directing the lesson at Tate—about 45 minutes (twice) of showing spoken word videos based on the theme of carrying an undeliverable message to someone(s) or something(s), and then asking the kids to write something similar. Among other things, I discovered that some just won’t write sometimes—and that’s fine. Better to leave it be than become bad feelings, at least for now. I was happily surprised by young one man who, after being told he could just draw a picture instead, went on to write a well-thought out and genuinely feeling poem.
Speaking of genuine feelings, I was a little disconcerted to find one of the students excusing herself for the restroom after writing to her father. I wasn’t expecting everyone to open up so much, or to share aloud when they had! We talked a little about the value of the message, even undeliverable, and it was apparent that she wanted badly for him to hear this but didn’t know if it would change anything even if he did. Similarly, another girl shared some hard truths about the family she came from, ghosts that hadn’t been heard from for a while, and it was regrettable that all we could do in the classroom for her is offer pencil and paper to write with, and our attention and ears to listen.
A more lighthearted moment came from one of the quietest kids in the room, who was unanimously voted winner when he finally, after much prodding, shared his letter to the extroverts of the world. He explained his frustration for being viewed as strange or too silent, just because he didn’t speak much, and the fire in his voice was impressive.
Another boy deemed the practice beneath him, slapping his notebook chock full of very raw and heartfelt poetry on the desk before him when I asked why he was not writing. He shared a poem with me that was savagely clear about the pains of a teenage suicide, but which had a sympathy and soul in it that couldn’t be feigned.
During the two lessons, I learned a lot about how difficult it can be to steer the students, but also about how unimportant that can become so long as they are writing, and writing genuinely, in a supportive and uncondemning environment. It was amazing and connecting to hear their individual voices, all different, and truly the only regret I have about how the lessons went was that not everyone wrote, not everyone shared, and not everyone was heard. Hopefully, in time, they’ll gain the courage and motivation to show their voice.