On November 11, 2016, I did one of the things I most love doing– a poet’s visit to a school. Dana Kinsey, a talented poet and teacher at the school invited me, and I am so grateful she did. What a beautiful day.
The school had just finished a poetry contest with winners in each grade, 9th through 12th. I read the winning poems when I arrived and they were stunning. They wrote historical poems, some in voices of historical characters. They were well-crafted and full of heart. Dana Kinsey and her colleagues are doing great work at this lovely school.
I met with 3 assemblies, in groups of 50-75 students each, during which I read, asked questions, had some conversations about poetry and its power in our lives. I often like to ask students if there’s a poem “that matters” to them. Then I ask them to explain why “it matters.” That usually gets us off and running. I read several poems in each assembly and talked a bit about those poems too. I read some “Cool ‘Disco’ Dan” poems, “Requiem for Virgil Ware,” “Nelson Mandela Speaks to Trayvon Martin” and others. The students had good questions and observations. They were attentive and “locked in” to the poems. Maybe it was the just the chance to be out of their regular class. Regardless, they were awesome.
We ended the day with a lunch featuring the poetry contest winners. They each read their poems and I was able to talk with them and sign some books. Their work was tender and moving. All the result of a fine teacher, Dana Kinsey. They’re lucky to have a practicing poet as a teacher. And Dana, in particular, clearly has a love for these young people. They are fortunate to have her.
As a teacher myself, I’ve seen the impact of a poet’s visit. I have seen students captivated by the work of a poet when they hear him (or her) in their own school. I’ve seen a visit like this light a fire in students– often, in students who needed the fire. And that’s the thing. We need poetry. We need poets. There are things a poem can do that no other writing can quite do. As I told these students: “No one ever says: ‘I’m going to give my beloved an essay as a gift.'” That has never been said. But poems? Yes.