On Wednesday, I led my first creative writing workshop with sixth graders at the local middle school. As I signed in, nerves that had nothing to do with the school’s stringent security system quickened my pulse. I experienced an alarming flashback to my own pre-adolescent days, which was followed by a wave of nausea. I walked through the halls, trotting at the heels of the kindly but over-worked coordinator, clutching my hand-written lesson plan and feeling smaller by the minute.
Entering Mrs. Johnson’s fifth-period English class, I felt a room full of 12-year-old eyes drill into me, sizing me up. So it was to my surprise that, when she inquired, a handful of the girls and one boy stood up to accompany “Miss Persons” to the other classroom. Miss Persons. My first order of business, after arranging the desks into an intimate circle, was granting them permission to call me Miss Annie.
As soon as we started talking about poetry, my nerves disappeared; it was like another self took over. I didn’t realize until halfway through the session that I had abandoned my lesson plan. Their innocent excitement reminded me of one of poetry’s vital elements: communication. Poetry isn’t just about reading and writing. One of the best things about poetry is its ability to foster discussion and even excitement.
Poet Steve Scafidi affirmed this notion during his reading at Washington and Lee on Tuesday. He said that writing a good poem involves evoking this sense of communication between author and reader, finding that intimate connection that comes from allowing your own mind to venture into the author’s world on the page. He referenced Horace’s “Ars Poetica,” where the speaker describes the process of writing a poem, and how a poem should be a unified and controlled entity:
“…painters and poets
Have always shared the right to dare anything.’
I know it: I claim that licence, and grant it in turn:
But not so the wild and tame should ever mate,
Or snakes couple with birds, or lambs with tigers”
Scafidi proceeded to read a poem of his own that responds to “Ars Poetica.” His poem illustrates dolphins diving through a forest and other disjointed but beautiful images. While he read, I saw those dolphins. Scafidi evoked poetry’s ability to illuminate the odd and unexpected—even within the author. I discovered this creativity and unexpected excitement in my sixth graders. I am looking forward to learning more about them through their poems and joining with them in that artistic communion. With these children guiding me, I want reignite my own sixth grade creativity and excitement. I want to channel this energy into my own writing and let it expand into all areas of my life.
– Annie Persons