Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Many of the entries on this blog speak to the difficult issues that are faced by my students, to the injustices that are part of this country’s landscape, to the challenges that are part of the everyday for people living below the poverty line in South Africa.
But it is not all bad.
Frequently I have interactions, experiences, moments of revelation where I see the joy…beauty…inspiration that exists all around. It creeps out of the cracks, it grows from concrete and is resilient against even the most harsh of circumstance.
Thursday of last week a student came into my classroom during lunchtime. He had been one of the students who had taken part in the poetry competition earlier this year, although he had not been selected to go on to the final. He told me that he and some other students had been talking about starting a poetry club and that they wanted to know if I would take part and offer guidance and support as they felt things would run more smoothly if I was involved. Of course I accepted.
I told him that I would make an announcement the following day to call all those students who were interested in poetry to come to a meeting in my classroom at lunchtime. There we could brainstorm about what we (they) wanted to do with the poetry club and make a plan for when we would meet.
The next day about 15 students from all grades and social groups turned up for the lunchtime meeting. I had them move the desks into a circle so that we were all facing each other.
I introduced myself to the group for those I did not know, acknowledged the student whose idea it had been, then as I had been asked to do, briefly introduced what the poetry club was all about. In short, it is to be a forum for poets to read their work, get feedback from other poets and discuss poetry. I then suggested we go around the circle and one by one introduce ourselves, tell the group when we started writing poetry, why we enjoy poetry, if there is anything in particular we enjoy writing about, when we write, if there are any poets we admire, and so on.
At first some were shy, but as we went around the circle the students became more engaged and animated. It was beautiful. I then suggested that we decide on the house rules for the meetings of the poetry club, which we did. The rules, (which the students themselves chose), are below.
In order to offer a bit more structure to the club and its meetings, I suggested that we meet twice a week – Tuesdays and Fridays – at lunchtime. At the end of the Friday meetings, I would give students a topic on which they would be expected to write a poem for Tuesday’s meeting. Students would be free to interpret the topic in any way they saw fit. For Friday meetings, students could present any poem they liked – original or that of a poet they admire. My only caveat was that the poems that I assigned must be written in English. Friday’s poems could be written in any language the students liked.
For those who have not ever worked with young people or teenagers, particularly those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, it is difficult to describe the flood of emotions one experiences when you are involved in something that causes the faces of those kids to light up. There was no denying the excitement that each of them felt at the prospect of having a poetry club, having an opportunity to create and share with others in the creative process.
Among the countless forms of discrimination that these kids face, perhaps most saddening is their creative and artistic suffocation. There are not many opportunities for youth to express their creativity and those programs that do exist do not have the resources to accommodate the number of kids wishing to take part.
Today was our first meeting and it went extremely well. Unsurprisingly the poems were incredible…possessing of great depth and power. Students presented their poems – some shyly, some more confident, and then gave each other feedback. All said that they couldn’t wait until the next meeting. I distributed notebooks that had been brought by a friend on a visit to Cape Town to each of the poets for them to keep their poetry in. Though she brought 12 I am on my way to Walton’s this evening to buy more. It was clear very soon into the meeting that one meeting a week wouldnt be enough for each of the students to read their poems, so we decided we would do the assigned poems for both meetings one week and poetry of their choice on alternate weeks.
Yesterday the young man whose idea the group had been approached me to tell me that he had a small drum at home and if I thought it would be a good idea for him to bring the drum for the meeting. I just smiled and nodded.
1. All poems assigned by Miss Alex must be written in English.
2. Please be on time for all meetings.
3. Show professionalism and respect your fellow poets.
4. Encourage each other.
5. Be constructive with all criticism.
6. Be non-judgemental
7. What is said in the house, stays in the house.