Living Poetry at John Amesse Elementary

Living Poetry at John Amesse

Every Wednesday and Thursday at John Amesse Elementary, by 11:55 am on the dot, I carry a box full of my students’ writing notebooks in one arm and drag my white board with the other to the library, where I wait impatiently until my twenty students fill the tables for our poetry class. Currently in its second year, this class has become an anchor in my life, a collective ninety minutes per week in which I know that I will find myself challenged and inspired both as a teacher and a writer. As a group, we often discuss what it means to exist in the world as a poet, the stress and tension that arise as a result of living observantly, and being so tuned in to emotion and surroundings. We talk about the music of poetry and the thoughts that can only manifest through imagery. We talk about the responsibility of sharing humanity on a blank page.

As a result of my term of service with Denver Public Schools (DPS) AmeriCorps Program at John Amesse Elementary, I have been afforded the opportunity to invite my students to grow and question with me. Together, we share, read, discuss, and write. I have witnessed each student struggle to think deeply about what I have asked them to do, and I struggle with them because when they are writing, I am writing as well. They are learning the same things that I learned in college-level poetry classes, and quite regularly, they perform much better than many adult poets I know. It’s both humbling and a privilege to read a student’s poem and wish that I had written it.

Soon, I will be collecting their poems as well as student writing from each grade level in order to publish the second edition of our school literary magazine, The Life That Surrounds Us. Last year, we were able to print 700 copies of this magazine to share with our students, staff, and community partners. I was able to tell over seventy students that they had become published authors, and I delighted in telling them that they had achieved something that most adults never will. To this day, students who were published enjoy reminding me in the hallways that they are in the poem book, as they call it. Through grants and school-based fundraisers, we are completely funded for the 2013-14 school year. Each student will receive a copy of the magazine at no cost.

When I arrived at my office this morning, a student was waiting for me with a poem that she had written the night before. It has become a normal occurrence to find this student waiting for me in the mornings, even though I always find myself surprised when it happens. The poem was about the death of her grandfather, scribbled into her pink glitter journal where she had already begun to write multiple copies. She asked for her next assignment and told me that she’d be back tomorrow. Could I be any luckier?

Iris Craig, Denver Public Schools AmeriCorps Student Engagement Advocate

photoIris Craig with a group of her poetry students



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