June 19, 2011

Another voice

Aside from reading heaps of poems for Versal during the submission period and trying to write poetry myself, I do a bit of teaching. A general writing course for the Royal Art Academy in the Hague, where I teach writing to very creative 3rd year students and poetry master workshops in Amsterdam to some very talented local writers. I can’t complain and to be honest it’s great working amongst people for whom words are a priority.

My perfect little universe was rocked some months ago when Guster approached me about putting together and teaching (in Dutch) a poetry workshop series for elementary school kids though not just poetry but rap, ugh. Of course I was enthusiastic to do it, who can afford not to be and the next days were spent driving everyone crazy by trying to rap all I had to say.

I actually have taught poetry to young kids before at a school situated in the centre of town where the lesson was a smooth affair of metaphors and allusions. This other school was in a rougher neighbourhood as far as rough neighbourhoods go in Holland and the kids accordingly challenged every trick I threw at them. I had spent hours putting together a neat little curriculum, embedded with classic Dutch children’s poems hoping to pass them off as rap (I did tell them the truth latter). Though I had inward smile moments when the kids who felt Annie M. G. Schmid was too soft, still demanded that I glue her poem into their notebook, I basically had to abandon my lesson plan and guide their energy towards something written.

With in no time they got the hang of writing and did they have a lot to say! They made incredible leaps through language and rhyme, venting about the dangers in their streets, their families’ countries of origin, local and Middle East politics, peace in the world and of course crushes. I was overwhelmed with their continuous exuberance (I’m putting it mildly) but also with the quality of what they wrote. Even the shy kid in the group was listened to which induced that kid with a kind of glow and another inward smile moment for me.

During the last lesson as we sat around the table eating good-bye cookies and lemonade, one of the girls told me she hadn’t learned anything during my class and on the contrary felt she was the one teaching me. We had a good laugh, but in many ways she was right. All I did was open a door, point and they all entered, me at the rear. And yes she and the rest of the kids taught me about structure, control and voice all of which I plan to incorporate when the season starts up again in September.

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