Thursday, May 31, 2012

Why I Love 8th Graders

Several weeks back, I gave a class where the 8th graders wrote spontaneous poems while listening to two piano pieces by Billy Strayhorn—Lotus Blossom and Valse. The poems got buried in my stack of papers and with two days of school left, I finally dug them out to re-read them. I find myself stunned by their depth of feeling, their synesthetic blend of the senses, their raw honesty and their tender hope. And astonished that all of them were first-draft spontaneous writing. These are 14-year old adolescents, hardly our image of the sensitive, feeling, introspective human being. How can this be?

Three possibilities:

1)    The carefully chosen music helped generate the mood and imagery and kudos to Billy Strayhorn for writing such evocative combinations of tones that fired the imagination and awakened the sleeping heart.

2)    Just as we are all born musicians, so are we all born poets. I suspect most everyone has some small collection of poems hidden away in the attic, prompted by young love or simply an awakening moment of life’s promise. Only a sliver of a slice of any population will keep the door open to their poetic promise and the rest just get on with the demands of the “real world.” But we’ve all tried our hand at it, yes? And poetry more than music, at least first-draft poetry, is possible because words pour from the pen without any of the technique, technical terms or practice that most people imagine music requires.

3)    Despite the media’s portrayal of young adolescents as posturing, pimply, pubescent punks, hulky and bulky, sensation-seeking, rough and tough teens , eye-rolling, adult-loathing, overgrown spoiled brats, this time of transition is precisely when poetry is most needed. Everything is magnified and amplified— the hopes, the fears, the quest for identity, the fading of innocence and harshness of experience, the need to announce oneself and make oneself known, to others and to oneself. Beneath all the exterior confusions and acting out (which, truth-be-told, are pretty low-key with our kids, as my Nicaragua blogs testify), lies a deep sensitivity simply awaiting the invitation to express itself. And this 30-minute poetry project was enough to do so.

Their poems touch on innocence, freedom, revelation, loss, exile, homecoming. In short, all the good stuff of poetry and life. Though they all deserve full readings, below is an assortment of excerpts from twelve young poets. Note the threads of similar themes running through them:

• They walk in the rain, Dance in the rain
Sing in the rain, Love in the rain
and forever they will be
Happy in the rain

• The sky casts a grey blanket over my head,
as crystal droplets dance down window panes.
I sit silently and watch life pass by, dying quietly in the rain.
Movements twirl in the wind, gathering the past,
Nothing is to last.

• As I swing
I hear the laughter, No troubled
thoughts are in sight. It’s as
if the world has no problems.

• I should leave.
No more talking. Just the sounds of silence around me.…

• Some folks never heard of me
I just want to be heard.
Know what it’s like to be me.
I’ll be you, let’s trade shoes.
Just to see what it would be like…

• The balloon drifts away,
A red streak in the vast blue sky.
The boy waves goodbye.
All things come. All things go.
But the sounds, the sights and the feeling will never disappear.

• He finally found what he is looking for,
A home.

• On this beautiful morning, I feel completely content.
Knowing that the time right now was very well spent.

But it quickly goes behind a large gray cloud
Which dampens the light, almost like a shroud.

But it burst through the barrier and goes on away
As if to tell me, “Come, live fully this day.”

• A man chases a bag
Through the raining streets
A bag with a letter
A letter of need
Soaked with importance and covered in rain
The bag floats away
Never to be seen again.

• An empty laundromat in the rain
An island of hope.
A bench
Sad music drifting from far away.

• A dancer floating in the clear night
People walking by in a snowy almost empty street
A man runs towards the dancer but he can’t get close, she floats away…

• Watch her as she dances,
A dance of sorrow, happiness and mystery
Watch as she gives herself to the sight of the others
Watch as she emerges from the shadows and lets herself be seen…

Thank you, 8th graders, for showing yourselves. You are beautiful. 

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