Creative voices filled the Friends Free Library when students and community members joined together for a Poetry Lunchtime Chat.
Creative voices filled the Friends Free Library when Upper School students and community members joined together for GFS' Poetry Lunchtime Chat in February. The event—sponsored by the GFS blog Irony of A—gave students the opportunity to read their poems aloud in front of parents, peers, faculty, neighbors, and friends. Poems comprised a number of different themes from student life and gender norms to coming of age stories. Using rhyme schemes, imagery, and prose, the readings were introspective, funny, and others powerful. For some, the Poetry Chat was the first time students read their own work aloud.
An open-forum event brings the local community together. "Poetry should not be a discipline that...sprinkles down...to whomever amongst the masses is lucky enough to snatch it...An open-forum strengthens our discourse and places poetry right where it should be," says English teacher Sam Sullivan. It's accessible to everyone.
Sullivan has encouraged students to "gain agency with language" and develop their voices through poetry. "One paranoia I always feel about poetry in schools is that it will be reabsorbed by the academic, institutional framework and therefore robbed of its radical, spiritual power." That's why there are no writing guidelines in his class, a poetry minor for students in grades 10 through 12. Instead, Sullivan encourages his students to explore works by a variety of different poets. If they're unsure where to start, he suggests writers like Kay Ryan, Ethridge Knight, e.e. cummings, Terrence Hayes, William Shakespeare, Gwendolyn Brooks, or Julia de Burgos. "We should be showing young people how to become active participants in shaping and expanding and destroying and renewing the language," says Sullivan. "Normally, we dangle 'correct' or 'beautiful' or 'meaningful' forms of language above [students'] heads and say, 'come get it.' Poetry forces us, the adults, to come to terms with the agency of young people as thinkers."
At the event, students were joined by faculty and staff, as well as members of the GFS and Germantown community. GFS alumna Joan Countryman '58, a retired math teacher, joked, "I taught math for many years...but now, I'm a poet," before diving into her written work.
Poetry serves a greater purpose for the students too. English Department Head Alex Levin adds, "When students begin to understand one another as poets, as artists with unique styles and voices, they come to appreciate one another more. They start to realize that the world is full of poets, some who are currently engaged in the work of writing poetry, and some who have yet to be invited to write."
The following passages are from student-written poems, presented during GFS' Poetry Lunchtime Chat on Wednesday, February 26.
I call the eating disorder hotline
and hang up like a slamming door
A big stone drops back
I hold the stone and get dropped off at school in the day
And pantry at night
My red throat grows into a large stone
Bleached by water
It's fitting of many more things you can
suck the tea bag but
Its nectar will not quench that thirst
Day by day I knock the stone into drips of powder
Then hot milk
A spoon stirs
I have measured out my thighs with spoons
The scorch dims in a blink
No love marks to be left on this swath of skin
At every dawn I lose it again
Does my unhappiness impress you yet
- A poem by Liwa Sun '20
When I Was Growing Up
When I was growing up,
We didn't have allergies
There was no gluten to be free of
We drank our soda straight from the source
We didn't worry about cups and bottles and cans
We turned on the hose and guzzled sweet candy water
Until our teeth turned gray
Curfew was the town screamer
Us kids would be outside, playing Shoot the Indians all day, no parents in site
Until the town screamer would run all around town and scream
And then we knew
it was time to go home
Our bearded grandfathers taught us how to hunt
not with guns or bows, with flamethrowers and poisoned darts
But first we'd pray to the demon Romulus
And organize our blood jars
If you wanted to climb a tree, you climbed it
We had no knee pads or safety nets
You'd check to see if there were any tree elves
If there were, you'd say "excuse me Mr. or Mrs. Elf, I'm climbing this tree,"
And then you'd just climb it!
When I was growing up
We said no to the candy men in clown suits!
We murdered our fathers when they said PLEASE
We understand what it meant to bury a bone in the dirt
We didn't believe in "object permanence," or "the linear passage of time"
What is it with kids these days
With their iPhones
And their Adderal
What happened to respect
What happened to decency
What happened to community horse executions
Those were the best Saturdays
Today is nothing like when I was growing up
- A poem by Brenden Dahl '20