Time Warp: Teaching Poetry Take 2


Because I know how to tag along, I am here in India with my mother, participating in the 3rd Tibetan School Counselors Conference cum Workshop. Of course, since I am not a school counselor, psychologist, teacher or even counseling student, I might be slightly misfit for the purposes of presenting here. Yet somehow, I did present and (fingers crossed) may have managed to make it relevant for the conference participants.

Quite a few years ago, I did a small research project on the idea of the muse — relating to the impact of exercising creativity on children’s minds and on the minds of criminals (or prisoners, at least) and/or people going through rehabilitation. I wanted to understand why creativity is so cathartic, why writing is so important and how all of it relates to self-understanding and self-expression.

My mentor taught me how to teach poetry and I went around reading pieces like “True Notebooks” by Mark Salzman (about young men in a high security prison going through creative writing exercises with him), interviews in The Sun (especially one with Hector Aristizábal), and watching clips produced by people like Eve Ensler (who worked with women in a high security prison to produce monologues of their lives with real actors playing the women on stage). So I came here with these things, because all of it is related to the same goals that counseling and therapy have in mind: to heal, to understand, to be heard.

But of course, I began by teaching different forms of poetry (haiku, pantoum, and repeated line poems that start with “I come from…”) and I tried to explain how poetry could be a low-pressure way to bring kids out of their shells. Poetry helps with grammar and confidence. It shows them that what they have to say is important and beautiful and tragic.

And then I asked these Tibetan school counselors to write poetry and read it to the group. They obliged. It was, as always, wonderfully inspiring and also tragic. It’s easy to forget when you’re sitting in a room with articulate professionals, but Tibetans are refugees. They are displaced.

We all have stories to tell. And I felt better knowing that in presenting, I maybe handed a small microphone to people who need one. I hope these are resources they can use.

Mostly, though, I was honored to participate in this. I was grateful to be heard, too.



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