“Can I be
The girl to change the world
With just one piece of writing?”
–excerpt from “Who Am I?” by Nassara Jean (teacher: Anna Katter’s classroom (Miami ’11)
I hated poetry until I was a junior in college and met Daisy Fried.
Day one of her writing workshop, this wild-haired poet stood in front of the room glowing, and asked the poets in the room to raise their hands. I definitely kept mine in my lap along with about half the room, to which she smiled and replied, “Well starting today, we’re all poets.”
Though I didn’t believe it then, by the end of her course, I was a dedicated, purposeful, and published poet, along with many others who kept their hands down that first day. Daisy pushed her students to use their voices in the world in a real and affecting way, and made simple the tools that would help us get there. A year later, despite my Middle East Politics major, I’d graduate “Class Poet,” and read my work as last parting words to my graduating class. Because I had a teacher whose passion and confidence in her students was ridiculously contagious, I had the honor of sharing my thoughts with thousands, when otherwise I’d have remained quiet.
It’s corny to say this, but Daisy gave me my own powerful voice. I’m pretty sure THAT’s what teaching is all about.
Daisy’s infectious passion and confidence in her students’ abilities is what I’ve been trying to emulate as a music and ELA teacher (Delta ’10), specifically in my poetry instruction for the last three years. For the last year, I’ve had the opportunity to drive across the country teaching week-long poetry writing workshops heavily influenced by Daisy’s methods to over 1,200 students in fifteen TFA regions. The result was over 6,000 original student poems aimed at creating change in the world. Students like Nassara became Poet Warriors and explored their own identity and purpose, explored the life-lessons they’ve learned and have to teach, looked at their families, communities, and place, and then boldly spoke out for themselves, and poetically told their stories for others to hear and understand. They were pushed to ask big questions of themselves and then in turn, asked them of us.
This year, I’ve seen poetry become not just a subject to tackle, but I’ve seen it become for students a life-changer, a driving force, a relief, or a freedom to be passed on:
“Poetry is like a person seeing the sun for the first time”
–Genesis Carreon, Denver, CO (teacher: Hannah Wright, Colorado ’11)
“It’s me running in a dark hall, and I’m running with tigers,”
–Anaya Seeley, Detroit, MI (teacher: Taylor Staffort, Detroit, ’11)
“Poetry is forgiveness,”
–Mason K. Loa, Kailua-Kona, HI (teacher: Lia-Lucine Cary, Hawaii ’11)
“Poetry is freedom. Poetry is a song. A song to sing out loud.”
–Nette Young, Crownpoint NM (teacher: Sophie Rane, New Mexico ’12)
Thanks to digital self-publishing at the Poet Warriors Project tumblr, “Poetry Is,” and Studio One’s video series, this past year our students’ stories and poems were able to reach thousands of readers in all 50 states across the country and around the world as far as India and the Republic of Georgia, Argentina and France. As magazines, blogs, and public radio began to pick up and publish our students’ poems, as Obama’s inauguration poet Richard Blanco and publications like Poetry Magazine (the largest, oldest poetry magazine in the US) started following the project and sharing our students’ poems, our students continued to speak louder understanding the importance and breadth of their voices.
This coming year, with your help, I’m hoping our students will be heard more loudly, more clearly than ever before. I’d like to invite you to participate in the Poet Warriors Project in your own classroom this year.
If you’d be interested in hearing more about how to get involved, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org by October 25th just saying you’re interested, and more info will be sent your way.