For National Poetry Month, some unexpected money came in via the League of Poets to the QWF for poets to visit schools here in Quebec. Fortunately I was one of the first to answer the call. We had a hard time, though, lining up a school that would have me ... but finally, with four days left in the month, the arrangment was made for me to visit a Secondary 1 class (12-13 years old) at Lauren Hill Academy here in Montreal. (I tell you, it 's so much easier when the writer's organization plugs for you, rather than the poet having to make the intial contacts with the teachers and the schools, which in my experience -- i.e. the Writers in the CEGEPs program -- has up to now been the case. Artists of all kinds need the dignity of representation, esp. when there's money involved. )
To be honest, I was a bit apprehensive, since I've never taught that age group. I spent hours wracking my brains to think up and print out material -- second-guessing myself against the unknown. It turns out I had little to worry about. The class was an enriched English class -- the students were bright, creative, and well-behaved. We brainstormed about what poetry was, I shared with them a few simple but expressive poems by mostly other contemporary poets that they responded to really well (these had been photocopied -- namely Lee Young Lee's From Blossoms, In the Old Days a Poet Once Said by Ko Un, a poem by my friend Nina Bruck, that remarkable anonymous 16th c. poem --
Western Wind, when will thou blow
The small rain down can rain?
Christ, if my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again!
This latter I shared with them partly to to show it's emotional and natural to write in rhyme. Also, that second line, "the small rain down can rain" really pushes the limits of reason, but is so evocatively powerful... Then I had them do a a creative writing exercise patterned after WCW's "This is Just to Say" and Gwendolyn Brooks' "We Real Cool" -- they could choose one or the other, whichever inspired -- which lead to enthusiastic readings by some of the students of their own work. After that I read a poem I which I wrote at 16 and patterned after the "This is Just to Say"... which brought on, to my happy surprise, an applause. Then I took out my guitar and we ended with some poems put to music and a couple of my songs following typical song verse-chorus structures, just to show some of the difference -- and similarity -- between poetry and song. Needless to say, this eighty-minute class went really well. My instinct not just to focus on my own work, but to present those of others I thought they'd like, was, it turns out, the appropriate one. I can only recommend that to other poets in the same situation: you're an emmisary for poetry, not yourself.