(Ed note: On March 13, we posted about an ambitious project to build a poetry library for teens. Here's what happened. sdh)
My students and I want to thank all of you who have contributed to our growing poetry library for at-risk teens in Coney Island. Thanks to your generosity, our shelves are filling with a wonderful variety of poetry books. I hope our story will inspire others to contribute as well. We now have over fifty books!
I lead a poetry workshop for teenagers in Coney Island’s YWCA teen empowerment program through Parachute: the Coney Island Performance Festival, a literary nonprofit I founded. We meet at the Coney Island YWCA after-school program housed in the Rachel Carson High School in Brooklyn, NY. Parachute and the YWCA have been collaborating for over a year in order to offer the poetry workshop.
A few weeks ago, I initiated a grass-roots project to create a poetry section for the high school’s library, which, at the time had one poetry book. (One book!) My plan was to contact other poets, local presses, and those who had performed at Parachute’s annual festival and invite them to contribute books for a shelf at the YWCA and the school’s library.
I posted an announcement on my facebook page, sent an email to all the wonderful poets who had read at Parachute in recent years, including poet, Matthea Harvey, who reposted my message which got picked up by the Best American Poetry blog, tweeted by them, retweeted by the Poetry Foundation. Within a few weeks books started pouring in from all over the nation and even from as far away as Canada and Spain! They are still arriving. Each day my mailbox is overflowing with books.
One of my goals in the writing workshop at the YWCA is to expose teenagers to poets whose voices the teenagers can identify with and perhaps shake up teenage notions of what poetry is and can be. They think all poetry has to rhyme and we are working on letting go of that idea. We have read Frank O’Hara, Tracie Morris, Muriel Rukeyser, Diane DiPrima, Jennifer L. Knox and Matthea Harvey. “How did he do that? He’s got flow!” said student Maya upon reading Frank O’Hara’s “Steps.” On their own, the girls are reading Tupac Shakur and Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Café. In class, we have been writing “celebrity poems” based on chosen pop stars, such as Justin Bieber, Nicki Minaj or Lil Wayne. You can read some of these on our virtual magazine, Teenage Fever Magazine (www.teenagefevermag.tumblr.com)
The Poetry Lending Library project serves at least two distinct purposes: The teenagers get to read books by authors they would not otherwise encounter, and the poets get their books into the hands of new readers they might not otherwise reach. It’s really quite simple: symbiotic activism. The teenagers love the books; real actual “hold-in-your-hand” books. This couldn’t delight me more in an age of kindle, ipad, and nook. The students find the covers of each book we receive to be different and intriguing, and love that all the poems reveal a unique personality and life. While I may or may not be encouraging teenagers to become poets, I’m hopeful that I am fostering a love of poetry, language, and books that will empower them and serve them their entire lives.
Won’t you take a few minutes to send a copy of your book to us? Would you like to have your books read by at-risk teens in NYC? If so, please send one (or two if you want them to go to the school's permanent collection as well as the after-school's) copy of any or all books you have authored. Feel free to sign it or leave a note for a teen. These books will really be appreciated by the teenagers. And if, through the magic of social media, this reaches you in a far-off place where your books are in a language other than English, send them along anyway. Thank you!
Please send your poetry books to:
Rachel Carson High School
YWCA Room 346
521 West Ave
Brooklyn NY 11224
Parachute: The Coney Island Performance Festival