Today was the third of 7 poetry sessions with a group of incarcerated young men.
The goal for the day was survival. I’m not joking.
When the teacher tells you right off the bat that they had managed to concentrate for SOME of the time before I got there but that now they were basically, well, a bit wild and crazy, you know it is going to be a rough day.
The good. They were comfortable enough to chat with me before things got started. It was the nice, easygoing chat I had witnessed between them and their regular teacher and it felt good to be included.
The crazy. They were actually really good at brainstorming words on the board. Not so great at coming up with a sentence using those words. And only two of them managed to actually write a poem. I asked for 5 lines which they complained was too long. This from the same group of kids who 2 days ago were writing 10 and 15 lines. But they are like many other teens in that regard.
We tried to work on editing/revising a poem for improvement but they are all taking it personally, saying that it means I don’t like their work. It doesn’t matter how many revisions I tell them I have gone through on a poem, they are different.
One of them managed to slip a drug reference past me when we were writing about water things. He wrote about ice and I totally blanked out on the drug reference until the second time I read the poem. Sigh. Too bad as it was the most he had written.
One of them worked very hard on several lines, trying to really capture the feeling he had inside. I think he did a great job but then he was afraid that the judge would see it and somehow make a judgment on him so he destroyed the page.
One of them, the one who stood up to me in the last session, has become very helpful of another boy who speaks very little English.
This time for art I brought my collection of words and phrases that I have been cutting out of magazines for years. I put a pile on each table and gave them a fresh sheet of paper. The idea was to do a collage, a positive collage, of the words that spoke to you.
They are all so conditioned with being in this place that they couldn’t grasp the outside-of-the-box concept. They lined words up in complete sentences. Tore words apart to make their own words. In the end, most of them just grabbed words without meaning and glued them to the page. At this rate I worry that we will actually manage the self-portraits or a decent poem for the display that is needed at the end of the project.
The hardest thing? Getting them to revise. It’s just not happening.
The next hardest thing? Getting them to listen, which the teacher said she has trouble with too.
My grade for the day? I’m sticking with a B.