So, by now you should know that I’m a teacher and a poet. As such, it probably seems a little weird that I invited four poets into my classroom today to teach my students for me, because, of all the things I teach, surely poetry should be something I’m fairly comfortable in working with. It’s coin like though. On one side, some students find the excitement and enjoyment I derive from poetry to be infectious but on the flip side, it can also be a reason students switch off – prompting responses of “of course you like this, you write the stuff” or “you make it look so easy but when I try to write nothing comes out”.
The Said Poets Society care about telling good stories. Stories change the way people think about the world, and we believe that to inspire positive action, we first have to inspire positive thinking. We run performance poetry workshops in Perth high schools to equip young people to make positive change in their lives and communities through the power of stories.
If you look at their website, I didn’t have the ‘traditional’ line-up for the Said Poets. In a way I won out because I had four poets (Matt and Ben were joined by Sam Needs and Jakob Boyd) when I was expecting three but it was slightly disappointing that Athena couldn’t attend; I’m always looking for new poets to follow and her absence meant I still haven’t had a chance to hear her work – plus, it would have been good to have a female voice in the room. Ben might have made up for this somewhat when he explained that feminism is a topic he resonates with, a point he made through a pun filled PowerPoint. His take on equality and toxic masculinity would have sat well with much of the class, especially with some of the boys who share similar interests and have faced similar situations to those Ben described.
It was Matt who opened proceedings, explaining the group’s ethos and sharing some verse. His opening poem is listed on YouTube but it was his poem about mental health that had the room captivated. At its core this poem told the story of Matt’s high school friend who suicided but it was eased in with such finesse that, at poem’s end, it’s hard to believe you were laughing at fedora-wearing men only minutes before. The word STORY was an important factor. Matt stressed the importance of the narrative but the group’s mission statement is to give students the opportunity to voice their own story (and not just the story society tells them).
I’m actually struggling to decide what my highlight was. It could be any of the following:
- Ben’s private comment to me that “you were right, they are a good group”
- that the Said Poets worked to my schedule and were happy to run their four week program over two weeks instead.
- that Jakob remembered the name of the poem I recited at a mini-slam back in March.
- Matt and Ben mouthing along to a video of Harry Baker performing “Paper People”.
- the sight of my students writing. ALL of my students. Even the slackers and those low in confidence.
- that the students were praised for their honesty in their writing.
- that I walk away from today with a new writing prompt, a game to play when teaching metaphor and four approaches to writing slam poetry.
- that one of my students currently on a D for English spent an hour in the library after school reading poetry; or
- that I have four or five ideas for new poems that I now feel compelled to write.
I can’t wait until next week when the students refine and perform what they’ve written.