Empowerment through Language...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Another friend of mine from high school has recently connected with me via Facebook. For several days we have been sending let's catch up on the past four decades notes back and forth. It turns out that, after all this time, my friend has been living just 2 hours further west on I-90. Who knew?!

He asked a curious question about my work in the latest note: How old are the kids you teach writing? They are so all wired into their phones and texting. Is it hard to get past this? 

My response: I tell them that I ask them to put the media away, especially the phones, because my thumbs start to itch when I see them texting and my phone is off. I text a lot. It is convenient and often efficient. Generally the students are quite surprised that I text. Ms. Popoff!!! You really text?! 

It's true. In spite of my age and obvious corniness, I am a relentless texter. Students are extremely dependent on their phones and IPods. Instead of passing notes, they text. They also think we adults don't see what they are doing or are too old to understand. I like breaking their presumption with my reality. And then, sometimes the best way to engage the students in the poem is to ask them to "translate" it into text language. There is a different code for our kids to use to individualize and keep us out of their business. I guess mine was Pig Latin, though I never knew why it was called that.

Kids have to have their own code, their own connection, in all things, language, art, music, clothing, hair styles. Most outgrow rebellion, although I don't know that I have done so very well.

I can understand middle and high schoolers being self-focused but I often wonder why my college students are not more involved in politics. I think my peers' awareness has just a little bit to do with the fact that my generation, including my friend with whom I have been reunited, sat in front of a television to endure the Draft Lottery that would seal the fate of so many. It could literally be the difference between life and death. Sometimes I tell the story of the first Lottery and what it meant to all of my generation, as well as our parents. Perhaps it is that the Civil Rights era now seems like a successful mission to many who want to believe the myth of Post-Racial America. Perhaps I just ran with a unique crowd.

As I stated to my friend, we were unusual young people. The majority of our crew were artists in some medium or another and continued that journey into adulthood. Some of us are also educators in some capacity. We were movie addicts, we made art, we attended a lot of music events, we spent afternoons voluntarily at the Everson Museum of Art in downtown Syracuse. We had long hair then, both genders. Some of us still do.

And we are the first of the electronic age that morphed from television. We have cell phones and computers. We tweet. And we reunite on Facebook to look back at another generation that wants so much to be relevant and connect. A poem is no obstacle to me in that... 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Another year...another cause for gratitude and reflection...

Dear friends, family, colleagues...

I am not sure how many years I have maintained this birthday ritual but I believe it is at least 10. I have not saved all the letters, though I wish I had, but for at least a decade, I start my year by sipping a cup of perked coffee and writing to those who make my life worth living, before I step into the world or out of my jammies. I am almost superstitious about it. I must offer my gratitude for another year of experience, laughter, growth, expansion, and success in facing darkness, and the biggest of all, love.

This year has been the usual roller coaster. I have looked back and see that I have a life pattern of the rug being pulled out from under me on an average of every 3 years. Three years ago when I sent out my birthday missive, I had been laid off from Partners from Arts Education and had made the decision to pursue my career as an independent teaching artist, for which I had been building for the previous 8 or 9 years. It was about the Work more than a job. It was just months after the release of my second book, The Doom Weaver. I was eager for the growth of my career and optimistic regarding so many things and then it changed in the course of one sentence. At the time, Jerome Duerr said to me, "That book is very courageous. If you can write that book, you can do anything." He advised me that many people discouraged him from starting his studio and pursuing his passion and true artist self. He said, "This is America. What's the worst that could get another job." Jerome encouraged me to be authentic and true to myself and indicated that he, who does not know me as well as some of you, believed that I can manifest my highest good.

I made it through these 3 years as I have most of my life, sometimes with sweat and others with the help of those close and understanding, but I pursued the path that I had created and, in the process, did good work in schools and with those I share my knowledge. This year, I complete my solar return with the rug yanked again due to the economy but my commitment to this career, albeit unconventional, is true. This work in education, this work with language and all its power, is what I know I was born to offer. I get so frustrated along the way but I know that I have value to offer and I am nothing if not persistent. I pray that the outcomes I have dreamed continue to unfold and that not only do I "just keep doing the good work" (as Sue Stonecash tells me year after year) but that the potential for stability and security finally unfolds.

This past year has given me many blessings, as is always the case. The most prominent achievement is the publication of Our Difficult Sunlight. This is the effort for which I am most proud in this life thus far. I love the two collections of poetry I have published and am eagerly preparing for more books of the poems I have inside me. But the purpose of ODS, what it offers to others so they can strive for greater success in their own work, this is my true intention and I hope that this book reaches many of those who will benefit. I am particularly grateful to my collaborator, Quraysh Ali Lansana, in this journey. We are both highly invested in this project and its opportunity and now endeavor to bring it to the attention of every teacher, every artist educator, anyone who can use it and gain ways of engaging in our art form as well as helping others to read, to connect, to learn and grow as humans. Lofty ambitions but I am always a bit in the clouds. I believe in both altitude and dreams.

I must also say I am grateful to all of the publishers who have believed in my work to include me as one of their authors: Hale Mary Press, Main Street Rag Publishers, Puddinghouse/Kattywompus, and Teachers & Writers Collaborative. What else can I say but thank you.

This past year has also returned some key people to my life after many many years, particularly my dear friend and lifeline when I was a teen, Barbara Wright, and my long lost cousin Christine Kelly. There have been other reunions as well but these two have given me back a piece of myself that is difficult to explain in mere words. Thank you both...and thanks to the others who I have been able to share time and laughter, including Deb Rahalski, other Nottingham 40th reunion friends, to name just a few. 

I know that when I reveal my fears, it freaks some out so I will just say I have been given pause to question a great deal this summer. I have been somber these past few weeks leading up to my birthday. Something about 58 is unsettling. Time is flying at a velocity that is confusing. I see the horizon of my elder years and there is so very much to do. I have three children's books in stages of development. I have two collections of poetry unwrapping themselves. I have the food memoir collaboration with my dear Linda Moore rejuvenating. And I have been very committed to my blog. ODS taught me that I enjoy the personal essay, writing in prose. I have been guided by my friend and mentor Dale Davis to look at how that is presenting as the foundation for another book. And I journal regularly. I am feeling an urgency to complete these works, to keep moving forward, to proceed and be bold, as Phil Alexander advised a few years ago, a fine mantra that I share often.

My community of friends and family have had hardship as well as delight. There have been weddings to celebrate and losses to mourn. We have welcomed new lives, we have lost dear friends. I have a beautiful fish tank that was Bob Gibbons' and now I tend the water community in honor of the life he lived. There has been illness and there has been laughter. I have witnessed friends make changes that will keep them closer to their own missions and intentions and I celebrate them. I have seen my close ones and colleagues rise beyond pain, fear, loss, the economy to live with integrity and honesty, to heal themselves and be forces of healing and joy for others. I am grateful for you and the models you present. I hope to be a person in whom you can confide and upon whom you can rely.

This is a deeply troubled time in our nation. No matter what your personal politics, it is undeniable. I harken back to my teens and the climate feels the same. The discord, the fear, the frustration, the marches. I feel we all must pay attention and strive to know the full story of what is happening. We must vote, we must be informed, and we must talk to others, even those who disagree with us. Too much is at stake for complacency. Nuff said here...

I am in the sixth decade in this body consciousness. I pray for continued good health. I pray for the wellness of my brain also. I pray for my community and my beloveds, all of you. I miss those whom I have lost throughout the years and I light candles in their honor. The list is long and it is sobering that I have exceeded the lifespan of two parents and one brother. But it is what it is and I live each day for them as well. I especially beam light on behalf of the next generation of nieces and nephews, both of my immediate family and those whom I have adopted and have adopted me. My Anna and her brother James, the Goodnough girls, my Maxwell and my Joseph, Adelle (my Delly Bell), the Gainer/Bradford crew, Ms. Maddie and her new brother Karson, the Pashley brothers, Team Lansana, Juliette and Brittany, the three beautiful Horwitz sisters on the west coast, Rosatis, Curdts, Missy, the Wentworth sisters, Kristen, Natalie, and Jonathan Crawford, Dylan and Jesse (and now Jesse's son) and every single child or teen I have ever been blessed with the chance to teach and offer poetry, may your way be golden with light, may you know yourselves well and may the universe support you in your dreams. And mostly, may I be blessed to witness it for many more years, decades...this is a miracle, this opportunity of life. We have no way of truly explaining any of it but by some Grace, we are here to live it. Let us not waste a moment.

It is time to wrap this up and send it out. This is also the first year I will use social media to share my thoughts, so I am sure to reach every person for whom I am grateful and by whom I am supported and blessed. My phone is ringing with texts from loved ones sending birthdaygrams. I have to get to the Zen Center to write a poem about fall trees with the children. Then maybe to dig in my garden and spread some of my birthday mulch from Linda M. So I offer my wish for all of you, may you have a blessed day and may your path be cleared of obstacles, illuminated with wisdom and opportunity.

With love and a heart full of gratitude, I thank each of you for making my life worthwhile and joyous. I may know you just a little bit. I may have walked parallel with you for ages. You all matter to me and create the substance of my existence. As Ms. Lucille Clifton advised me, "I choose Joy because I am capable of it, and there are those who are not."

Namaste and ASE,

Friday, October 14, 2011

Dumbing Down the Conversation

We don't have to search long for a mirror to reflect the trickle-up effect of what has been happening in our educational system in the past 10 years; ask a professor. They can tell you.

Over the past few years, I have spoken with a number of colleagues teaching at the university level about the current academic capacity of students. Those who have been teaching for a number of years recognize a student body far less able to meet the standards of just 10 years ago. The textbook count that can be assigned has decreased. Literacy skills have diminished. This is not just among students who come from disadvantaged environments, this is across the board. They also believe that discipline and personal responsibility is lower in many students (in fact, one of my friends, now retired, told me of a student who explained that she was consistently late for class because her mother hadn't been calling to wake her up).

The evidence of diminished capacity is most apparent, I believe, in student writing. The failure to master basic composition skills presents well before college. On many occasions, I have not been able to get a satisfactory answer from 9th and 10th graders to the question, "What is a noun?" It is sobering. At the college level, when students cannot manage tense agreement, do not know how to punctuate or spell, one must question who failed them? Although I am an ardent advocate for teachers, we cannot deny that there is a problem. Actually, teachers are the first to recognize it. There is a progression in which teachers at one level have to instruct students who have been passed forward from lower grades with deficits that impede success as they advance along the chain. The bigger problem is that they will be judged for the response to the assessments that these students must take. There is a great deal of anxiety in schools in the current climate.

One of my colleagues teaches at a state university in another part of the country. He was assigned a sophomore composition class in his fall semester load. Nearly 2 months into the school year, after offering students the ability to rewrite one assignment because their papers were so terrible, then still not being able to grade above a C on any of the revisions and many not even achieving that, he announced that he was going to abandon the syllabus they had been following, effective immediately.

He told his class that they would use the remainder of the semester to learn basic writing skills that somehow they had never developed. I asked how they responded and he replied first with the word "somber;" then he told me that many of the students seemed grateful, even relieved. I imagine that the tension had been palpable until this bold response to the immediate need.

He also needed to discuss this decision with his department chair. He was concerned, unsure whether he would be supported in electing to embrace the immediate need or would be required to tow the line of the administration's expectation for the course offering. He was choosing to honor the students and stop ignoring the obvious. They are unprepared for the work being asked of them. If he does not intervene on their behalf, they will be unprepared for success in both academia and business going forward. He has the ability to turn that tide and will do what he can to share his knowledge.

This is the kind of bold choice our educators have to make every day, from pre-K through graduate school. I know teachers at all grades who shut their doors and teach the way they know students need and from which they will benefit. Sometimes they fear reprisal, but they would rather educate than drill. These teachers' students often manage to accommodate the pressures of the assessment system. And then there are many good teachers who are hamstringed, who have been disempowered by administrations and district requirements, unable to adequately impart the scholastic knowledge as well as life skills that they know their charges need, often demanded to deliver scripted units of study from one educational program or another in which their district has invested.

I teach one wacky little single-credit course at a local university every fall, sort of an arts enrichment seminar for honors students. Even with these students, frequently quite driven, I often find the quality of writing lower than my expectation. It is surprising. In fact, one year my evaluations reflected that my students thought I was asking for too much in my writing assignments. This course has no required reading, no research, just a weekly personal reflection of up to two double-spaced pages, one report on an informational interview of at least five pages, and a final personal reflection, five-page minimum. I had to adjust.

But, in defense of young people and their teachers, I also see work by poets who do not know the difference between  it's and its, or lightening and the marvel of a summer night, lightning. These are writers who pride themselves in their skill with language. And don't get me started on the typos and sloppy grammar on web-based news outlets or on news squawk network trailers and headers, much less television series' scripts. It is so much important that they beat everyone to the consumer with the headline that there is no consciousness in or even time for adequate proofreading. It is insulting to me but then I wonder who else besides me even notices? Who notices when some celebrity or newscaster says "Her and I were..." either?

I keep thinking that 21st century American life has become a sequel combination of three films: The Truman Show, The Candidate, and Idiocracy. Frankly, I find it not only rather sad but also embarrassing. The most pathetic thing is that not enough of our politicians care deeply or take a stand for education. Others are fully sold on reform policy that is not good education. We are in trouble. If language is power, as I truly believe, we are rapidly becoming a nation of wimps.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

It has been 12 years since I created an exit strategy from my job as office administrator with an environmental engineering consulting team to become a teaching artist, to dedicate my life to my passion and identity as Poet.

I started out in afterschool programs, although I did have some teaching experience with adults and a few forays into working with school-aged children. Afterschool is where most of us cut our teeth as artist educators. It is definitely the "school of hard knocks." I made a ton of mistakes but I know I did a lot that was right too. Some of those students are now in their senior year, if not graduated. At least, I pray they graduated. I cannot be certain.

I also coached for the local chapter of the NAACP ACT-SO program throughout the 90s. Many of those young poets I mentored are now 30. They are adults with meaningful lives and I am so very proud of them all. Some are teachers, some are entrepreneurs, one is a lawyer, some are parents themselves, and some still write, have a love of poetry. This is heartwarming.

As for those young writers I met in Hillbrook Detention Center over the three or four summers I taught there, I have not the same optimism but I can pray some of those teens made a change in their lives. One is dead. I think of him frequently. I know several others had additional run-ins with the justice system.

I do not teach for sweeping outcomes. I teach for the moment and with a hope to sow seeds. If I am successful, I will affect some sort of change, even if for an hour.

Approximately 10 years ago, I had the great fortune of connecting with the arts-in-education community fostered by the New York State Council on the Arts. This was in the glory days of NYSCA AIE. The statewide roundtable network was being built, the grant programs were well-funded and growing, the conversations were vital and charged with excitement. I discovered many people such as me who wanted to combine their art forms, their belief in our youth, and their own ability to connect, to bring something significant and supportive of teachers and students into classrooms. There were researchers, artists, seasoned educators, parents, cultural organization administrators all focused on the power of the arts in learning, all looking to further develop young minds.

This was a large community of educators of every ilk sharing, working, creating, building on 20+ years of foundation in developing a craft, a career path, and a professional field. It was where I had hoped I would land when I took that leap from the day job, among likeminded people from and with whom I could learn, create, and grow. 

There were powerful meetings, terrific initiatives, and a network within the practice of learning and teaching that was vital and inspiring. I met many who I admire greatly and I learned a great deal about many subjects and pedagogies. I made some lifelong friends. The network expanded to and connected with the national field where there was even more evidence of how the braid of learning and the arts could be expressed with success and enthusiasm.

I entered the AIE community at the beginning of this new NCLB was formulating and being passed. The waters soon rippled, early signs of the storm ahead. Like the Gulf when the spinning rage is still far off shore but the tides hint at what is coming.

Politics, funding slashes, the deterioration of so much eroded this movement. The network has been splintered and cast out. Arts councils have been defunded or significantly cut in many states. Key agencies and cultural organizations have been forced to abandon their programs and turn the keys in the locks. Some of us have landed in other nonprofits, others have started independent practices and consulting businesses. We have lost the core that created reasons to be together to plan and implement innovative educational programming and to spur each other with the shared knowledge.

Nationally we witness that our teachers are being demonized. Our children and teens are suffering. Higher education is recognizing the full impact of this erosion. The basic preparation our schools were providing for future generations to take on the task of living a life with stability and independence is no longer possible. Arts and cultural organizations throughout the nation have also withered.

The strength in numbers among creative, competent educators has been weakened by breaking up the network and splitting us off from each other. Dissent is being stirred up within the field of education by whomever is holding the power now (i.e., pitting public schools against charter schools, Race for the Top state-against-state competition for funding to support school districts, etc.).

It is only one part of the way we are failing as a nation and why I feel so much the way I did in 1968. The difference is that I am 58 rather than 15 so I am even more frustrated and horrified, especially because I have seen the costs before and do not understand why we are backsliding so steeply and rapidly. I understand my father's fear when he was in such conflict between his morals vs. his employment during the Viet Nam War. I share his distrust of the political climate. I see why he was threatening to move us all to Sweden in 1968 if George Wallace were to be elected; how he knew Nixon was a seriously bad choice as well. He saw the clouds accumulating along the horizon, the heat lightning, but he was also the son of a Marxist so he had been watching the weather for a long time.

Tonight the AFL-CIO is mobilizing even more humans to stand up against it all in Wall Street, to refuse the eviction. The Senate says NO to putting Americans to work. Peddlers of profit are masquerading as education reformers while they peddle books and charge huge fees for speaking engagements. Banks are moving into charging us for using the debit cards upon which they spent the last 20 years orchestrating our dependence. The news talking heads are squawkin' loud and sometimes sayin' nothin' while Herman Cain speaks for the Right (RIP James Brown...I'm glad you and my dad are both missing this).

I can find no logic in the current political agenda that continues to weaken our citizenry in the interests of profit and/or power but that is where we seem to be. We've been through this before. Complacency must not be accepted. We must be aware, we must continue to educate ourselves and others. We all depend on it.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

When Is It Too Soon to Tell the Truth?

Quraysh and I presented at the Urban Word NY annual Preemptive Education Conference last week. During our workshop, there were several moments in which the questions and conversation took us a bit off the agenda to support the teachable moment. Teaching is a performance art and the teachable moment is always the element that one must examine in the instant, assess, and respond quickly. Do we veer from the lesson plan for the engaged and pertinent discussion? And how do we get back to the focus?

This is always the case in authentic education. The teachable moment is that opportunity to maximize the engagement of the students and to fill out the lesson plan with vital responses to the learning as it happens. But if you have goals and need to fulfill the expectation for that unit of study, there is a dance of balance and truth.

In this instance at the conference, we were discussing the poem I love to teach to any age group, Nikki Giovanni's "Knoxville, Tennessee." 

As we discussed Ms. Giovanni's word choices, there were some fascinating comments. For instance, as the poem celebrates the luxury of going barefoot in summer, one participant who teaches in L.A. said that his students would not see that as a positive. He further explained that going barefoot would not only be unsafe and no child would do so willingly but if they were barefooted, it would be due to poverty and probably subject them to ridicule. It would be an embarrassment rather than a delight. This gave me another opportunity to see how geography alone will affect inference but also how poetry may provide alternative reflections on experience.

At the point that we were discussing the word "okra" from the early part of the poem, I shared a slightly truncated version of my narrative of the journey of okra through the Middle Passage to the North American continent. This story itself was initiated through a teachable moment 2 years ago, when a class of 6th grade students and I were discussing the poem and I was informing them about the vegetable. One student asked where it came from and the teacher started to research it from her computer as we worked. This is when we discovered the West African origins and my imagination took the reins. Since that cold January day, I have woven the tale and personalized the experience in a narrative that starts us out as members of a village on an ordinary day 400 years ago, and presupposes some brave person who was kidnapped from the garden chores with a pod of okra in hand. It is tender and horrible at the same time. But it is a tale of courage and fortitude that I believe must be imagined.

Often when I have the technology, I also have slides of okra, from plant to images of dishes that include okra (gumbo, jambalaya, fried okra, etc.). I also show images of the diagrams of the ships loaded with humans side by side, pictures of the slave castles of Ghana, the Door of No Return. I have since learned that there was a Door of No Return on the East African coast where enslaved humans were shipped to the Mideast for servitude as well. We often know only a portion of our global history.

There were two key questions during the conference workshop after the story: 1) what is the youngest age that this story may be shared, and 2) is it permissible for someone not of African descent to even do so?

My belief is that there is no age too early in the school setting to tell the story, but that it is important to tailor the story to the level of understanding and sensitivity. Telling the story to a 3rd grader demands a different tone than telling the story to a high schooler. But the rote understanding of the slave trade that is shrink wrapped for each February unit of study of Black History does little to drive home the horror of the Transatlantic Slave Trade or of the notion of slavery itself, particularly in view of the fact that slavery does still exist on the planet. I recently read a statistic that there is still an African slave trade that numbers 30,000+ annually. There are slaves in Asia, there are slaves in the U.S., and there are sex slaves in Dubai as well as worldwide. Women, in particular, understand that slavery is far from extinct.

So we have to be sensitive in the delivery but we must inform if we are to be true educators, especially if we keep a mission of social justice. I do not think we can withhold the truth and still be honest. But we can be honest in sharing the truth in ways that builds understanding and empathy; in this, we chip away at the divisive nature of racism and isolation.

The second question is a harder one to address. I have had a similar conversation with the poet Martha Collins regarding her book, Blue Front, which addresses lynchings in America is a stunning and stark manner. Her quandary (and even the objections of others at times) was did she have the agency as a White woman to address this topic, one that is so rooted in the African American experiences of racism and terrorism that results?

The person asking the question of me said that she did not feel she would have the right to tell the story, particularly not to turn it into a first person narrative, because she is White. I started the story out in second person plural, with a creative visualization prompt of "imagine we are all African, in our village on a warm sunny morning..." At some point, well into the journey, already on the plantation, for some unknown reason in the moment, I switched the pronoun to "I" when it came time to plan the okra seeds that had been clung to throughout the horrid transfer from one continent to another, during which each of us had lost our status and identities as human.

I don't know if I have done this before but I did last Saturday. It was about one person taking action to plant those small seeds that would provide the taste and sustenance of home, and remind us of and root us in a time when we were fully human, rather than diminished to chattel. A food that keeps the truth within our hearts.

But my points are these:

1) we have to remember that this history of slavery is not just for Black America, it is the history we all carry one way or another as a nation so we must be familiar with it, own it, take responsibility to change the course, especially now;

2) the only way to resolve the issues of racism is to create an understanding, an empathy in all people so that the actions that result from racism are no longer tolerable.

We must be able to internalize the horror to combat it. And it takes each of us to do so. If my taking the character to heart and sharing it means that the 6th grade blonde girl in Watkins Glen, NY, cries from the realization of the truth, then so be it. I have the agency to do so. And so it did happen one morning last January. That child may find it very difficult to tolerate racism much less commit acts that harken it in the future because she was able to picture herself within the shackles herself. I would do the same in sharing the horror of the Holocaust of Nazi Germany, had Anne Frank not done so already.

There may be some who do not agree, and I would not take a story that another has developed to use as my own, particularly of a cultural heritage outside of my own. You will not ever catch me attempting to do "Signifying Monkey," though I relish every moment I hear a storyteller or griot launch into it. But the story of okra is also a part of me, that descendent of North Carolinian farmers who did not own slaves but who discovered the delicate taste of a vegetable rooted in the Motherland of all humanity. So I will tell it and I will remember what courage is, a courage that I have not had to draw upon but I admire greatly. 

And I will continue to ask children to picture themselves in a West African village on a sunny day, feet warmed by the hot dust beneath them, that moment when everything was intact and serene, before the kidnappers...before we were forced to overstand brutality.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Maximizing Conference Time - The Task at Hand

This past weekend, my coauthor Quraysh Ali Lansana, and I presented a workshop based on some of the pedagogy in Our Difficult Sunlight at the Preemptive Education Conference in NYC. Thanks to Michael Cirelli and the Urban Word NY staff for the invitation and the event itself. And thanks to those who chose our session among the great offerings that day. We appreciated the talent and commitment of all who were in the circle.

During our workshop, we aimed to offer three different elements of our approach that could be adapted and used in the classroom by the participants upon their return. Quraysh opened with his sculpting activity of Gwendolyn Brooks' timeless statement, "We Real Cool." In this, seven volunteers work with him to quickly stage a performance of the poem of just 24 words that speaks volumes to the circumstance of drop-outs and losing one's way, one's motivation. The sad truth is that this poem is even more relevant now than when Ms. Brooks wrote it nearly 60 years ago.

I then replicated my poem-as-video-game method for investigating a poem in a tiered examination that reveals context and drives inference by repeated reading, listening, and discussing the language from different vantage points. This metaphor correlating the experience of a poem with the process of playing a video game has proven to be very successful in my own practice and it is a flexible method of inquiry that encourages engagement, as does the sculpting activity. Both of these can be adapted to any poem, any group of students, any age.

The third portion of our workshop involved Ms. Brooks' construct of verse journalism, the poetry of events and news items, leading to poetic statements of not just awareness but social justice, and Q's interpretation of his community awareness scaffold for creating a poem. In this, by taking conscious reflective steps to identify the smells, sounds, characters, physical elements, and personal connection to one's neighborhood and relying upon these elements for inspiration; the prompts encourage a student to look beyond the expected, beyond habit, to examine the details of his/her world, even to identify beauty and pride where others may see despair. It is quite powerful and yields personal statements that are often quite moving.

There are inherent flaws in the conference model but this was a good conference nonetheless. As is generally the case, there is never enough time to do everything on the agenda. The goal of getting as much as possible squeezed into a single session is daunting. But we did offer three opportunities: one, a kinesthetic connection to a poem; the second, a deliberate method of reading poetry in a way that breaks down the barriers of self doubt and comprehension to empower readers to trust their interpretations; and a third that provides a platform for a panoramic view of one's own world that is rich with imagery and sensory awareness.

Although Q and I know that there is so much more that each of these components could have been presented with much more depth if there had been more time, it is our hope that the individuals who selected our workshop over the others available to them in that session were fed well. We expect that the educators and teaching artists who attend any of our professional development sessions recognize the many opportunities for adaptation of our suggestions, rather than attempting a rote replication. We are only modeling potential based on our own experience and, often, our successes in the classroom. We give these prompts and activities to others so they can also witness success and keep the art of poetry alive.