Did you hear alliteration in the air? Could you feel brains growing and passion seeping? Was Johnny Cash singing a song written by Shel Silverstein?
That was what students who were a part of the Emporia Middle School poetry presentation experienced Wednesday.
Five local poets visited with the seventh-grade language arts classes to talk about the writing process and the importance of continuing to read and write outside of school. Among these poets was Kevin Rabas, Amy Sage Webb, Lindsey Bartlett, Kerry Moyer and Linzi Garcia. The event was organized by seventh-grade language arts teachers Shawna Caro and Callie Windholz and hosted in the EMS library.
The seventh grade language arts classes are currently learning about how to bridge creative writing, social justice and argumentative writing. Prior to this event, classes spent time researching poets and activists, including Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes and Tupac. Exemplifying artistic writers who felt passionately about social justice show students that argumentative writing is flavored by passion and a creative writing style to match.
Following the theme, Rabas — Poet Laureate of Kansas 2017-2019 and recipient of the Langston Hughes Award for Poetry — shared with students his experience of writing the inauguration poem for Governor Laura Kelly, titled “Kansas, Awakening.” In two week’s time, Rabas gathered significant characteristics of what it means to him to live in Kansas, writing, “you will know this land / is not ours, but we belong / to these fields / [...] we say welcome: you belong / to this state, like we do.” As Rabas shared these lines, the students seemed to hang on every word.
Many of the students are exploring poetry for the first time in a classroom setting, which can be a confusing and liberating experience. Caro recalled that one of her students remarked, “Oh, I can write about this really hard time I had?” and she excitedly told the student, “Yes! Please!” Students are provided with a safe space to be vulnerable and expressive.
“I think a lot of the kids come in with this idea that [poetry] is some obscure, challenging thing that they’re never going to master,” Windholz said. That can cause some initial reluctance toward poetry, but the teachers and visiting writers were there to help the students assuage some of those feelings.
To show the variety of poetry, the visiting poets read their own poems, as well as poems they admire, that portrayed subjects ranging from processing tragedy, observing nature, writing to socks and quips about being a “boy named Sue.”
The students shared that some of their favorite topics to write about are their pets, philosophical queries and events or feelings they experience in their daily lives. Seventh-grader Finias Taylor said he was a fan of the shorter poems with outdoor settings.
“I felt like I was there,” he said.
Caro said live poetry readings fueled her love for the written and spoken word, inspiring her to create this event as “something [the students] had never experienced before.” For many, it was a first-time experience. One of the main goals Windholz had for the event was illustrating for the students that writing happens outside of the classroom.
The local poets advocated that there is a vibrant and supportive writing community full of people with various backgrounds and interests who love to write for a multitude of purposes, including just for fun.
“Being a part of a community is not just a job,” Caro said. “You can go to events you enjoy. You can be a part of events that you didn’t necessarily plan to be a part of.”
Caro and Windholz are already thinking about their plans for next year’s visiting poet presentation. They both feel this event is something students will talk about and that it was of value for all participants.