Liberty Bell Junior/Senior High School English Department teachers are taking a creative approach to making poetry accessible to students by offering them varied and frequent access to different forms of poetry throughout their years in school, and one such program is currently underway: the third annual Poetry Week.
Sponsored by the Public School Funding Alliance and coordinated by Methow Arts, Poetry Week involves five Methow Valley poets and one Spokane poet, all of whom offer poetry workshops to students in grades seven-12 throughout the week.
Although each workshop serves as a stand-alone session, teaching poets collaborated with teachers to design poetry lessons that integrate into themes that are currently being explored in the classroom.
Juniors, for example, will work with poets to focus on poetry with landscape and weather-based imagery, while seniors will consider identity in their poems. Freshman will tackle the concept of showing, not telling, as they work with descriptive language to convey images and evoke emotions.
Poetry as inspiration
Methow Valley and Portland-based teaching poet Cindy Williams Gutierrez says that poets should consider themselves artists first, and authors second, noting that “A poet is an artist. As an artist, the poet uses language to paint a picture, to create music, and to shape the reader’s experience. In other words, to be a poet, you must be a painter, a musician and a sculptor. The imagery, the sounds and the shape of a poem all work together to reveal the poet’s innermost thoughts and feelings.” Gutierrez is an award-winning playwright and poet, and is a member of Confluence Poets.
Spokane poet Dennis Held, who teaches in Eastern Washington University’s GetLit! program, will work with sophomores, juniors and seniors throughout the week, in addition to spending a day at Okanogan High School. After Held’s 2017 visit to Liberty Bell, one student wrote, “Dennis Held was really inspiring and told us life stories about how he started out not interested in English and then became inspired to be a poet. His workshop was really hands-on.”
Local poets featured
In addition to Held and Gutierrez, Methow Arts teaching poets Subhaga Crystal Bacon, Sam Lucy, Kelleigh McMillan and Boo Schneider will all lead poetry workshops. Bacon is the author of “Elegy with a Glass of Whiskey,” which won the New Poetry America Prize. Her poems have appeared in print and online journals in the United States, Canada and Japan. She teaches English and Communications at Wenatchee Valley College, and is a member of Confluence Poets.
Lucy is the co-owner of and a farmer at Bluebird Grain Farms, and has published a poetry anthology as well as numerous short stories based on a connection to land and outdoor exploration. Lucy is a frequent presence at poetry readings around the valley, and is a popular presenter at Methow Valley Elementary School’s Young Writers Conference as well as the parent of two daughters in high school.
McMillan teaches at the Independent Learning Center as well as leading poetry residencies for Methow Arts in the Methow Valley, Brewster and Omak school districts. She’s a member of Confluence Poets and the mother of two high school students.
Boo Schneider is a retired elementary school teacher and has been teaching at the Young Writers Conference for years. She and her husband, George, moved to the Methow Valley after she taught for 34 years and raised her own children.
Poetry precursors to Poetry Week included a visit by the Washington State Poet Laureate, Claudia Castro Luna, who spent three days in the Methow Valley in September working with students, teachers and community poets. After her workshops, she invited students, staff and community members to submit poems for her online poetry map project. Liberty Bell sophomores Keeley Brooks and Travis Grialou both had poems accepted to this project, which can be viewed at washingtonpoeticroutes.com.
Castro Luna was the most recent in a long line of poets laureate to work with Okanogan region students. Sam Green, Kathleen Flenniken, Elizabeth Austen and Tod Marshall have led poetry workshops for students in recent years. Wrote one student after Marshall’s visit, “[he] showed us a way of thinking we would have never thought of. We connected topics that would have seemed to contradict one another, but once brought together created a metaphor more realistic than the clichés we live by. I have never thought that way before.”
Poetry Week will conclude with a public reading, emceed by Held and open to community poets and student poets, at Confluence Gallery on Thursday (May 23), from 7–9 p.m. All are invited to this free event.
By Travis Grialou, sophomore
I haul the bike from the shed
Kick my feet into the pedals
Rub my arms
Rescue heat from the air
The crunch of gravel beneath tires
A hill looms before me
Covered in ruts, the dry veins of dirt
Dust billows behind me
Hanging in the air
The ghost of my passing
Among the pines
Glistening with frost
The fall air is crisp
A carpet of red-gray leaves crackle
Beneath my knobby tires
As I pass a ring of stones
Charcoal litters the ground
Grassy ghosts of flames
Beneath a dead gray sky