Due January 27th:
Teacher: Melanie Ruiz
Artist: Vanessa Valliere
School: North Grand High School
Big Idea: Performance and Writing
Students will learn that most good narrative writing is founded in their own experiences.
Students will learn the elements of performance that add voice and power to writing.
Students will learn how to use literary devices — such as personification, repetition, simile, and metaphor — in their own writing to strengthen it.
Art Content: PERFORMANCE
Non-Art Content: POETRY
Development and Goals:
What a year it has been! Our initial and original Theater Club – where we focused on different aspects of performance and telling a story – failed to flourish as it had done the two years before. Luckily for us, there was a call for a Slam Poetry club. Students were interested in writing their poetry, sharing it, and if possible, performing in Louder Than a Bomb. We immediately had a few students enthusiastically sign up and bring pieces of writing they had already been working on. We had an invigorating first session where we shared worked, talked about what we wanted this after-school program to be, and we are excited to carry this into the coming months. The students wanted a place to not only write in a safe and nurturing space, but also a place to improve their writing, perform their writing, and develop the performance aspect of writing.
We begin each session with a prompted and timed writing. We choose a prompt from a bowl, and then write silently or with music for 15 minutes. We then shared our work – acknowledging that no piece is perfect, that every piece can improve and is a work in progress. We talk about what we liked about the piece and where we think that they could take things further. After, we give the students time to share their own work that they have been working on and workshop. Once the students feel confident that their pieces are ready, we will work on the performance and movement aspect of the pieces. The students are working well together, respecting each others work and voice, and are progressing towards the goals.
Vanessa and I have taken the new aim of our after school program and all accompanying developments in stride. We met to develop a new curriculum – new inquiry questions and learning goals. We are be on the same page for how we wanted this program to look and what skills we could both bring. I have done a unit on Slam Poetry before, so I brought in the activities and workshops that I used to develop student voice and writing. Vanessa, while offering extremely helpful notes on performance, also works with me to provide feedback on the students’ writing and options for revision.
Art Content: PERFORMANCE
Non-Art Content: POETRY
Our goal was to create a safe and nurturing space for students to improve their writing, perform their writing, and develop the performance aspect of writing. Our first opportunity to bring all of this together was at Louder Than A Bomb. We worked with our students over a few weeks on their pieces of writing – revising, providing feedback, as well has helping them on the presentation and performance aspects. We scored their poems – highlighting areas of emphasis or pause, we explored different ways of saying different lines and discussed how the meaning changed with each reading. We worked together to gain confidence getting up in front of an audience and sharing a poem – something that is personal, very much a part of yourself. The first day of Louder Than a Bomb was both terrifying and exhilarating for the the students. They were visibly filled with nerves about performing their poems at such an event and at such a big venue. However, that fear turned into excitement as they heard each poet perform. They heard the cheers, the gasps, the snaps, the murmurs of agreement – and they wanted to be a part of it. Imani and Adriana blew us all away with their performances – they were poised, passionate, and exuded a confidence that we had only seen glimpses of before. They fed off the energy from the crowd and rode the high all night. Adriana would not stop raving all the way home about how she would tell her mother that she was indeed “a poet” now. “I write poems, Mama” she said, “and I’m good at it.” Nate had a rougher night, but used the misstep to fuel his next performance. Nate, with his notebook in hand, brought the crowd to tears with a beautiful poem he wrote about his mother. His movements perfectly mirrored his emotions and the crowd erupted in snaps in response to his masterful wordplay.
Even though we didn’t move past our second bout, the kids still wanted to go back, see their new friends perform, and provide support. They became part of this community of young poets and activists and it was beautiful.
After Louder Than a Bomb, we continued to meet and write – all students, including new poets, made progress towards our goal to create a safe and nurturing space for students to improve their writing, perform their writing, and develop the performance aspect of writing.They blossomed from reluctant sharers and novice writers, to proud poets who could create soaring lyrical imagery, who could masterfully use rhyme and meter to tell a story, and who effortlessly could share their work, encourage others to do so, take and provide feedback, and improve. They learned that no piece of writing is ever complete, and that by doing all of those things, they could become better writers, better poets, and better storytellers.
Vanessa and I continue to work well together – Vanessa’s background helped the students develop their performance skills, while my English background helped in the writing and revising of the poems. We both; however, traveled back and forth between these two roles seamlessly, sharing most of the responsibility. We’ve developed this working relationship though out our three years with C.A.P.E. and hope to continue to collaborate next year. One important element of our collaboration was writing when the kids were writing, and sharing our own work when the kids shared theirs. By making ourselves vulnerable and sharing little pieces of ourselves, we compelled our kids to do the same. Any reluctance or fear quickly vanished, and our little club became more of a little family.
A Poem for the Last Day of Poetry Club:
When 7th Grade came to an end
My teacher Mrs. K picked up a pen
And wrote two lines
For each student in rhyme
Even the “bad” kids got a verse
Though at St. Nick’s the worst
Was spread lime green jello on a chair
And wait patiently for someone to sit there
I still remember every word of mine
Almost 14 years after the time
We sat waiting eagerly for her to share
Each uttering a little prayer
That our couplet was better than the rest
So she began with her usual zest:
“Spikessa Melania is tall and can spike a volleyball
But when she writes it’s her words that enthrall.”
She was no Shakespeare or Milton
She focused more on the pistol and the stamen
But her words are ones I still recall
Her words endure, though the gesture small
She called me Spikessa because I was tall
Because I was tall and played volleyball
I was called Melania when I was young
when my mother was mad and reverted to her native tongue
Mrs. K decided it was a beautiful name
One she preferred, so she called me the same.
Now, 14 years later and a teacher too
I decided I would write some lines for you:
You build palaces with your words
The images you create blur
The lines between chaos and creation
You will rise far above your station
You are kind
Never afraid to speak your mind
If only you could stay off your phone during class
I can see you each time that I pass
You recite Shakespeare better than Burbage
Your poetry pours from your heart with courage
You’ve made me laugh until tears drained from my eyes
You are much stronger than you realize
You are fierce
With each word you write you pierce
If only you could stay completely awake
While we read about Juliet’s heartache.
You’d out-rhyme Lin Manuel any day
You’ve mastered meter and the art of wordplay
Your poems make us laugh and exude such joy
Especially the one about your love for “big fat white boy.”
You are caring.
Thank you for the McDonald’s and always sharing
We’d love if you’d been here more.
So when you act, always think before.
From the first time I heard you perform
I’ll admit a jealousy like firestorm
Words burst forth from you with fervor and ease
You were so young, but your verses would seize
The attention of the whole room
With each gasp and snap they were consumed
I can’t wait to see what else you can do.
If today you are even here.
And will not again disappear.
A few months ago I ran into Ms. K
“Spikessa Melania!” she exclaimed, incredulous.
“Mrs. Klymkovych!” I proclaimed with reverence.
She remembered me, and I her little rhyme.
From all those years ago and after all this time.
So maybe years from now, when you run into me,
After I’ve come back from my retirement villa across the sea.
You’ll remember these few lines I’ve written for you.
And we can reminisce, we poets two.