Discovering the Relevance of Words
Nick Hornby – author of About a Boy, High Fidelity, and several other novels – writes a column for The Believer called “Stuff I’ve Been Reading,” where he goes over the books he purchases each month versus the books that he actually reads. You can find all of his columns now in book form over a four volume set, and I would definitely recommend taking a gander through them if you’re looking for a great self-deprecating read.
I went on a bit of my own book-buying spree today, because I’m on summer break, and I want to read some poetry. So I purchased 23 small press books from some of my favorite poets: Buddy Wakefield, Jessica Care Moore, Malik Yusef, Beau Sia, Roger Bonair-Agard, Saul Williams, Anis Mojgani, Sierra DeMulder, and Sarah Kay. You can all view my purchases below. I recommend every one of them.
When I tweeted to a few of them that I had purchased their books, Jessica Care Moore sent me a message to let me know that “Poems Save Lives,” and I completely agree. In the last three weeks of the school year, I taught a unit on slam poetry. I wanted my students to understand that poems were more than just sonnets, and rhyme schemes, and stressed and unstressed syllables. I wanted them to feel the words, and know that they could write about their lives, and emotions, and stresses, and visions, and whatever the hell they felt like. We watched episodes of Def Poetry Jam, and Brave New Voices, and youtube clips from everyone from Sage Francis to Buddy Wakefield to Taylor Mali, Shane Koyczan, and teen poetry slams, and my students fell in love with words.
They were placed into teams of 5, with each group coming up with both individual and group pieces. They worked their tails off, and made it known that their scars, tears, joys, fears, parents wrongdoings, family problems, and whatever else made them tick was worn on their sleeves, and placed down on paper. They each performed their pieces in front of the class to loud snaps and ovations and cheers for everyone – including those who had struggled all year to get through any bit of reading. I have never been so proud of my students, and never felt so strongly about my job as a teacher.
I always tell my students that I am not there to be an English teacher, but rather to teach them one thing about themselves. Only, this year, I didn’t teach them about themselves, they did. I watched as poems saved lives.