Two Sunday nights ago, we were invited to a poetry reading. Not at a quaint independent book store or some cool café, rather at the home of a British woman who teaches English classes to elementary and middle school children.
When the eight-week session began last September, Simone went hesitantly. Louise had asked the 8th and 9th graders ahead of time to bring in their favorite song lyrics, which they then studied, breaking down lines and examining words, rhythm and meaning. Throughout the fall, they explored personification, metaphor, onomatopoeia, alliteration and imagery. Every Wednesday night, they wrote haikus, tankas and finally, slam poems.
At the end of the term, the teacher decided to have the kids showcase their work at a reading. Her living room filled up with mothers and fathers and younger siblings, all bundled in coats and boots. Even though Israel’s winter is mild, the tile floors and stone walls mean inside is often colder than out. We took our seats and waited.
Louise introduced her students, about 12 in all, divided into two classes. One at a time, they stood and read. Simone was second, reading a poem she wrote using personification. My daughter took her spot, looked down at her paper and up at the audience.
Whiteness covers the indecent branches
The scent of pines hangs in the air reminding everyone Santa is about to visit
Blinding light every time the curtains are opened
Snow sparkles everywhere like a disco party
Endless white envelops everything in its path like a hurricane
Relief that school would be canceled
Layered mittens hats scarves and coats
Touch snow with your bare flesh
Feel the sting of coldness
Runny noses and blushed cheeks
Icicles dare to be licked
Hear the crunch of fresh snow under your boot
Snow angels dance in the sun
Snowmen smile at pedestrians
Rich creamy dark chocolate with marshmallows floating like logs in an ocean
Take the wet garments off like peeling a carrot
Get cozy on the couch
Eavesdrop on the purr of the radiator
One boy recited a slam poem about fame and pop culture, while another read about footballers’ (soccer players) pay and egos. A girl wrote about friendships.
After everyone had performed, Louise spoke. “Some of the assignments were so challenging and the kids did amazing. I realized that if they could do my assignments then I should be able to, too.” She addressed her students. “You didn’t know that I wrote this, my attempt at a slam poem, but I did and it’s for you.”
Knowledge is the power to help you flower into the great mind you will lean on in the future.
But it is up to you how to travel this journey without a written guide book.
Your life will not be given a five start review, it’s up to you.
Knowledge is a present if only you have the presence of mind not to decline but to
Don’t reject this gift of words.
Your parents or teachers or elders feed to you like a complex set of medication.
The “I told you so’s the “You brought that upon youself’s”, the “think about what you just did’s”
DON’T roll your eyes.
You too will take great pleasure from these phrases after knowledge has built you like a bridge.
When you stare at your I pad screen, your computer screen, your phone screen
STOP press escape,
Am I using these screens to absorb the correct things? What will I gain from this burn to my retina?
Remember what you learn will churn you into a unique piece of art that some will criticise and others will love.
When I ask you as “teacher” to give your ideas, don’t look at your peers for the answer,
Rather go through the extensive corridors in your mind which are as complex as the London underground station.
Find your route and stick to it.
Change stations and move to the next track.
As long as you get to where you want to be, you will have the ticket of knowledge
And a suitcase of potential in your hand.
We applauded Louise as well as our kids, for their willingness to take an extracurricular activity that involves homework and effort to keep their native tongue at a level above what they might get in school here.
I don’t know a lot about poetry but do know that what I listened to on that winter’s night was creative, bold, intimate, daring. Some of these kids’ innermost thoughts moved me and served as another reminder of how powerful words can be.