The Stories of Poetry Heals

French familyPoetry Heals had some great stories this week.  In this photo, we have a family from Nice, France who wrote poems in French and English. They were visiting friends who live here, and you really can’t tell who is who.

We also get to continue our work with troubled teenagers.  We received a check from the Sheila Fortune Foundation to teach Poetry Heals workshops with youth at Inside Out Youth Services and Landmark School.

But I think the best story is about our high school volunteer and young man who has been living rough in Manitou for a few months, Seth. Seth and our volunteer chatted as they lugged the potters wheels into storage and were later seen walking down Manitou Avenue. The volunteer’s grandmother is a good friend, and she told me Seth had been staying with her for a few days. “Oh damn,” I thought. But she was glad about it.

Our volunteer had a tough start in life, and his grandparents have custody of him. He is plenty bright, although he has a learning challenge or two. He is flunking out of high school and is pretty rebellious. When the young men arrived, Grandma demanded Seth bathe and wash his clothes. After that, our volunteer and Seth discussed life, having issues with authority and the consequences of being rebellious. Seth got in his face about it; “What is it worth to you? Do you want to take off? Lose your family?” Seth did take off and has been on the streets for 6 years. He doesn’t regret it, but it has been hard, lonely and occasionally dangerous.

My friend actually thanked Poetry Heals and me for bringing Seth and her grandson together. She wants to make sure her grandson continues to volunteer for us. Seth’s grandmother  sent money to my friend so he can buy a bus ticket home, grandma to grandma. Seth plans to leave on Monday.

The moral(s) of the story is (are) : A local teenager had a positive volunteering experience plus a bunch of other stuff. A grandmother got to show her grandson what compassion looks like. A street person got a shower, a bed for a few nights, clean clothes and a way to actually get the money his grandmother wanted to send him. The police had one fewer person on the street to watch. The business people on Manitou Avenue had one fewer person in front of their stores. Poetry and Pottery provided the place and time for good things to happen.

Pretty good story, huh?

 

Teen Writers Take Over Class

Landmark Community SchoolI had written a writing prompt on the white board before I went to fetch the students for the after school writing group. Landmark Community School is a safe place for teens in recovery from addiction. The kids are terrific.

“What I would l like to change?” was the prompt. Jason and Aubrey* sat down on one side of the table and I across from them, a typical teacher spot. I mentioned that there was a prompt on the board behind them and that we could write a group poem if they liked. Jason picked up the marker, walked straight to the board, and wrote that he wanted to change the laws about medical marijuana. Then he handed Aubrey the marker. She wrote “the juvenile justice system.” Jason stepped up, added numbers to the list, and added #3. This went on until there were 13 items listed. Including “my resistance to change,” and “schools thinking everyone learns the same way.”

The teacher, me, didn’t move. I said, “Thank you, can you be more specific? Help me understand.”

The students had taken over and used the opportunity of a blank white board for their own purposes. And we had a poem of sorts. When they wrote on their own, one used a fill-in-the-blank template, while the other wrote freely. She didn’t want to share her work, so I asked her to read it to herself.

“Make sure you’ve been concrete, get to something you can pinch.” She bowed her head, scratched out some words, replaced them. Soon there were arrows to the margins with words racing down the edge. She looked up. “If you are taking the trouble to write about something, you might as well get down to it,” I said. She bowed her head again. And when she lifted it, said, “I like it.”

Jason wanted to read his new poem while Aubrey quietly found her folder and tucked in her poem. I will keep my promise not to read what is in their folders without their permission. Jason now has at least one poem without the word “fuck” in it. “See you next time.”

*These are not the students’ real names.