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University of Arizona's Poetry Center rises up from the ground in clean, straight lines and sharp angles, all steel and glass. It is legendary within the English Department for being home to the extensive poetry library and for the authors who come to do readings. I've been at the U of A for three years and have had the Poetry Center extolled to me in numerous classes, but never knew where it was.
It's a Saturday morning in October and I'm on my way to assist with a session of Poetry Joeys. I'm a little nervous as I walk up--for a writer, I am considered annoyingly gregarious, but in truth I am an introvert with somewhat severe social anxiety. There have been many Christmas parties and other social functions which I have bailed out on at the last minute due to impending panic. This game of 'social activity roulette' adds a sense of uncertainty to every occasion.
by Daniela Ugaz
Daniela moved to Tucson about a year and a half ago to start her MFA. Since then she's been spending some of her time writing, some of it teaching, some of it reading, organizing, scrounging up money and, without which none of the other things would be possible, napping! Life is good.
I started working with kids when I was twenty. That was four years ago. Now that I think about it, actually, I babysat a couple times when I was in my early teens. It was a little boy. I don't remember his name anymore. I didn't like babysitting very much, I remember that. And the boy's mother stopped calling after I lied a few times, saying I couldn't, saying I had a swim meet or play practice. The next time I worked with kids I was a teaching assistant for a summer journalism workshop for "at risk" middle schoolers. Those kids were hard on me, or maybe I took it that way mistakenly. I'll never be president, one of the boys once said to me. The teacher had just said something like you can be anything you want to be, as long as you set your mind to it. I didn't know what to say to him. I liked the idea of that job more than the job itself.
by Logan Phillips
Logan Phillips is a bilingual writer, performer and transdisciplinary artist from the Arizona / Mexico borderlands. Born in Tombstone, AZ in 1983 to a family of Irish-Slavic decent, he holds a B.A. in Spanish from Northern Arizona University. Phillips was a professor of Hispanic American Literature and translation at Universidad Internacional in Cuernavaca, Mexico before dedicating himself full-time to artistic endeavors. As a performer and poet, Phillips has toured throughout the US, Mexico and as far afield as Vancouver, Paris, Bogota, and Penzance, England. He also works as a freelance journalist and is author of five poetry chapbooks including Arroyo Ink, published in 2009.
In 2007 Phillips co-founded the binational multimedia performance group Verbo•bala Spoken Video, which was described by national Mexican newspaper La Reforma as "going for a poetry written without letters." When not touring, Phillips splits his time between Arizona and Mexico City. More can be found at dirtyverbs.com. Author Photo by Elena Zinchenko.
A Moment Out of Time
It was a Friday afternoon in 2008 when my fellow performance poets Jasmine Cuffee, Carlos Contreras and I were performing for a crowd of over 700 students at Buena High School in Sierra Vista, Arizona.
Two factors contribute to the quality of your student performance:
#1: Energy - your voice energy should be coming from your gut and be physically pushed out to the audience.
#2: Close attention to the text - You have to listen to the text as you speak it.
When you listen to the text, you are in the moment. Do NOT ask your students to memorize the delivery of the performance; it won't be honest or believable. The performance shouldn't be exactly the same each time. Rather, by listening to themselves in the moment, they will respond organically and discover the poem anew each time.
When you are doing a close reading with the text, make sure you don't ask them to generalize the mood of the poem. A generalized mood will make for a generalized performance. Instead, take the poem line by line, figure out what the most important words are in each sentence and how they should be spoken.
by Elizabeth Maria Falcón
Kimi Eisele's blog, "Big Sky Lessons: Reflections from a traveling teaching artist in rural Arizona" is a fantastic site for teaching inspiration. A recent blog post, "Lessons in Softness" reflects on a teaching experience she had near Safford on the San Carlos Apache reservation. Students had been asked to write an animal fable in one week, and Kimi was there to guide them through the writing process. She discusses the struggle she experienced between getting students to write and allowing students to discover what they have to say through creative movement and play.
Here is an excerpt from her blog post from one of the class periods where they explored animals through creative movement:
These are responses from our Poetry Out Loud professional development discussion on judging and subjectivity issues. Please comment with your own ideas!
How do you and your students grapple with issues of subjectivity in the judging process?
by Elizabeth Maria Falcón
I taught a Halloween lesson at Apollo Middle School last fall that centered around mood and tone. I began by reading the opening of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book:
There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.
The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade
finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might
not even know you had been cut, not immediately.
by Joni Wallace
Joni Wallace's poetry collection Blinking Ephemeral Valentine was selected by Mary Jo Bang for the 2009 Levis Prize and is forthcoming from Four Way Books (March, 2011). Her poems have been published in Boston Review, Barrow Street, Blue Mesa Review, Conduit, Cutbank, Forklift, Ohio, Laurel Review and have been featured in Connotations Press, An Online Artifact. She holds an MFA from the University of Montana. Joni is also a musician and co-founder, with poet Ann Dernier, of Poets' Studio.
"These are the poetry birds, Mom," says my beaming five-year-old, presenting me with her drawing. "And...they are famous." For the last two years these birds have graced the wall in the room where I write. If they had a song, it would be "attention, pay attention." And they remind of something Dean Young wrote of poets: we are trying to make birds, not birdhouses. This same "birdness" is what Richard Shelton calls "claritas:" those moments of clairvoyant transcendence that come through poems when poems work.
by Sarah Kortemeier
Sarah Kortemeier is a teaching artist and is completing her MFA at the University of Arizona. She also teaches undergraduate poetry and composition courses at the U of A.
The Poetry Center's first fall Poetry Joeys is happening this Saturday, Sept. 25th at 10:00 a.m.
When I taught Poetry Joeys for the 7-9 age group this spring at the Poetry Center, I had the pleasure of working with a class of very energetic and intellectually curious children. During our first lesson, one boy asked me if I knew what a chimera was: clearly, this was a group of kids who loved words. I saw immediately that many of the students were deeply attracted to learning the sense of new words; by the acquisition and use of complex vocabulary, they were attempting to achieve a more diverse, complicated, and sophisticated view of the world.
Needless to say, this class was a blast to teach.
Collaborative Poetry can push an experience and build group cohesiveness, validate feelings and foster confidence with words. My first experience facilitating a collaborative poem remains a model for my other forays into group writing.
In 2000, I was working with an inter-generational group of refugees from Central America in the Owl and Panther Program, a partnership of The Hopi Foundation and the Pima County Public Library. We started the workshop by viewing the poignant film If the Mango Tree Could Speak. The film documented youth who couldn't flee the violence in Guatemala and El Salvador as the families in this workshop had. We watched and listened as the youth in the film shared what they experienced and witnessed.