Poets In Progress

November 18, 2011 By

You’ve heard of Poetry Slams? It’s when poets compete on stage and perform their work. They’re usually lively affairs, and everyone walks away loving the ode and speaking in iambic pentameter.

Last week, teachers and students in Ghana gave this idea a Worldreader twist. We’re not quite ready for the big time (yet), but we’ve uncovered a few likely rhyme masters in the making; one day, maybe they’ll be up on stage spinning out their own spoken words.

With Worldreader’s support, volunteers worked with some of our primary and junior high school students and talked about self-expression through poetry.

The day started with unstructured reading time, something the kids rarely get. School time is focused on lesson plans, and when kids go home, they have chores and other things to do. Leisure time is limited, and reading for fun, well, sometimes, that’s limited, too.

Volunteers read a story with students. Some students read out loud. Others read silently. Others simply discussed the stories they’d read and volunteers kept the dialog going.

Based on our experience with Vacation School, we knew kids would attend this extra session. They’re hungry to learn. But, we’re always surprised by how many kids actually show up. The classroom was packed! And, it wasn’t just with our iREAD kids. As usual, lots of non-iREAD students clustered around the windows and doors and peered in. One girl had a baby on her back. Everyone wants in, and we’re happy they came and stayed the whole time. We’re all the wiser for it.

After the reading “warm-up,” one of our star volunteers, Mrs. Polansky, taught the kids about poetry. She read a poem about an elephant and then showed how the text appeared like a tall skinny building — a few words per line on the glossy pages.

She also read an original poem she’d written about how she was felt coming to teach for the first time that day. She took the lesson even further. Reflecting life’s dilemmas, she explained how some questions have one right answer, like 65+35 equals 100, but other questions have no right answer, for instance, “What is poetry?”

With that in mind, the students took pieces of paper and jammed on their own literary greatness. It was confusing at first. Figuring out poetry is a tough thing (for most of us), and, for many, this was their first crack at it. Soon, they got the hang of it, and they wrote about themselves, their interests, and even about having hope.

The volunteers picked four excellent poems (pictured below) and read them out loud to the whole class. There was a round of applause (the special local Ghanaian clap…we’ll show it to you one day), and, as the session ended, lots of waving when the volunteers boarded their mini-bus and a mad dash for post-poetry refreshments.

Days like this make me wonder, given the chance, could one of these kids be the next Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, or Pablo Neruda? Maybe with a few more “Worldreader Poetry Slams” we’ll find out.