The Hurricane Sandy Poetry Initiative was created to bring the healing power of poetry to students and teachers affected by the storm. In January we met with teachers who applied on behalf of their schools. Their stories are incredibly sad—lost homes, lost livelihoods, loss of a culture and a sense of normalcy. Many teachers stated that they felt students needed a way to express themselves, outside of academic demands and graded writing assignments. We know that the healing will take months if not years, and that Dodge Poetry will be just one small part of that. But we do hope the experience brings comfort to students and teachers and that it offers a sense of possibility.
Starting this month, we are working with Southern Regional High School in Manahawkin, Central Regional High School in Bayville, and Communications High School in Wall Township. Dodge Poets Crystal Bacon, Robert Carnevale and BJ Ward have been selected to work with these students and teachers, respectively. In an effort to create a bond between the visiting poet and the students and staff, the same poet will visit each school several times. The three schools have been offered a 5-day program, and will be implementing the program in slightly different ways. Below is a brief description of the elements of the program.
STUDENT SESSION 1: DODGE POET VISIT
The Dodge Poet provides an informal introduction to contemporary poetry by sharing some of their work, some poems of other writers who matter to them and talking with students about their responses to the poems. The students will hear about what drives their writing, how the poets write, who they read, what they do when they get stuck, etc. There is no pressure for the students to learn anything specific about poetry or to write in response in these informal, collegial conversations.
STUDENT SESSION 2: GIVING VOICE
The Dodge Poet will facilitate a Giving Voice session with students, modeled after the work we do in our teacher program, Clearing the Spring, Tending the Fountain. In this session, students choose poems they are drawn to from a prepared packet and read them out loud to each other, and listen to each other read. The focus of the session is on sharing honest responses to the poetry. There is no right or wrong response, no analysis, no need to understand every word or judge the poems.
STUDENT SESSION 3: WRITING AND SHARING ACTIVITIES
The last session is focused on students having an opportunity to write. However, this is not a writing workshop. The focus is on students’ self-expression rather than on critique or feedback of the writing. It is entirely possible that some students will write and not want to share their work at all. It is also likely that some students will write and have the impulse to read their writing aloud to the class. Both of these impulses will be honored and accepted.
TEACHER SESSION: GIVING VOICE
As with the Giving Voice session for students, teachers will have the experience of reading poemsaloud and listening to poetry being read. Because there is no pressure to “teach” the poems or to “learn” the poems, we hope that this session will offer teachers a way to reconnect with their imagination and to reconnect with their colleagues through the simple enjoyment of poetry.
CULMINATING EVENT for STUDENTS AND FAMILIES
Our schools are arranging events during the school day or afterschool, where students can share their writing with a larger audience, including other students and their families. Our hope is that these events will encourage a sense of community, and support students as they continue to grapple with their experiences and express themselves.
Crystal Bacon’s first book of poems, Elegy with a Glass of Whiskey, won the 2003 A. Poulin New Poetry America prize from BOA Editions and was published in 2004. She is a 1995 graduate of the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications in the US and Canada and Taiwan. Her poems explore the nature of being, living on the edge between spirit and matter, the finite and the infinite. She is an Assistant Professor of English at the Community College of Philadelphia.
Robert Carnevale’s poems have appeared in The Paris Review, The New Yorker, The Alaska Quarterly and other magazines and anthologies. He teaches writing and literature at Drew University and Kean University.
BJ Ward’s most recent book is Gravedigger’s Birthday. His earlier books are Landing in New Jersey with Soft Hands and 17 Love Poems with No Despair. He is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and two Distinguished Artist Fellowships from the NJ State Council on the Arts. For his teaching, he has received the Governor’s Award in Arts Education from the State of New Jersey and was named Teaching Artist of the Year by the New Jersey Writers Project. He has been on the faculty of The Frost Place Festival, the NJ Governor’s School for the Arts, and the Controlled Burn Seminar for Young Writers. He teaches year-round in the Creative Writing Program at Warren County ……………………………………………………Community College. He grew up on the ……………………………………………………Musconetcong River.