I’m walking down the hallway of a middle school in Hartford, feeling the crush of adolescent attitude. I pause when a boy smiles and says, “Hey, I know you. You’re the poet!” He then disappears into a swell of back packs and pandemonium.
In moments like this, I must pinch myself…wonder how I got here. It wasn’t long ago when I would have looked behind me for the poet. Who? Where? Instead, I breathe deeply, smile back, feel blessed. This is my 4th visit to the school – writing, performing, preparing them for a poetry slam.
In the school’s black box theater, four girls became so overwrought with having to share their poems out loud, they burst into tears and run out the door. At the end of the day, one of the girls waits until everyone else has left and then asks me if I would like to read her poem.
In it, she writes about living in a world where everyone talks, but no one listens. A world where society assigns labels to determine who we will grow up to be. Labels that lump, allowing some to feel superior and others to feel like junk, “Each label more poisonous than the last.” This seventh grader ends with, “Don’t give in!” Her words are an itch in a hard-to-reach place.
I like the poem and tell her so, ask why she didn’t want to share it out loud. The terrified look on her face says it all. And I think back to a public speaking class in college. On the first night, we had to introduce ourselves from the front of the classroom. When it was my turn I stood there crying, said “Fuck! I can’t do this!” and ran out. I was 35 years old before I shared my poetry out loud with an audience and even now, these many years later, am not entirely comfortable doing so. And as I write this, am still wondering how I got here.
The following is a collaborative found poem, meaning I did not write these lines. They are lines heard from the poems written by those seventh graders. All I’ve done is rearrange them into something ‘found’, something powerful.
In My Own Fantastic Future
Solitude is who I am –
one cloud, alone.
If only disappearing were an option.
Your harsh words
Each letter, bitter as birdseed.
Your harsh words
are a paper shredder
but I carry on.
This child doesn’t need you anymore.
Your stereotypical labels try to tell me
who I am … not me!
This child has his own dreams.
My big debut
is coming soon.
I am a dim light
in a long, dark hallway.
And it feels like joy
as I grow brighter –
a bold sun
pushing away the clouds.
What I have
to give to you
Collaborative found poem, 7th grade
Kinsella Magnet School
They get ‘perfect 10’s’ from me!!