Poetry Reading Showcases Cooperation Between College Students and City Schools

Logan Buckley, Staff Writer

“I believe this is what they call a capacity crowd,” said Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing Lynn Powell to a packed house at the Cat in the Cream on Monday night. The crowd, which was composed of all ages and left little room even to stand, had gathered to hear poems written by Langston Middle School students. The poems were written during residencies with College students — both Creative Writing majors and non-majors with strong interests in writing — in Powell’s Teaching Imaginative Writing course. During the first half of the semester, students in the course studied pedagogy and practiced designing lessons and writing exercises.

In the second half of the semester, they worked in pairs with classes at Langston Middle School, sharing favorite poems with students and then having students write their own poems. Powell noted at the beginning of the evening that most of the poems had been written in around 15 minutes as writing exercises, making them all the more impressive.

Before each class read its poems, the Oberlin students who worked with the middle schoolers described the poems that would be shared, and the writing exercises that had inspired them.

Several middle school students shared “famous” poems in which they explored the metaphor of fame, often beginning with the line, “The pencil is famous to the paper,” and crafting their own poems from there.

Other students shared “Quiet World” poems, in which they followed the example of poet Jeffrey McDaniel in imagining what it would be like if the government decided to restrict everyone to a certain number of words per day. McDaniel’s poem uses one hundred and sixty seven; the students chose their own numbers.

The middle schoolers took the stage one by one, often with varying degrees of nervousness, gaining confidence as they read. By the time they had finished, many were beaming.

As might be expected, the students’ poems traversed a wide range of subjects and tones, from humor and laughter to more serious topics of breakups or relationships with loved ones and family members. Many of the poems were quite heartfelt and drew enthusiastic responses from the crowds. One student received a particularly warm response for a poem about her brother, who has autism, as he accompanied her on the guitar.

After students had finished sharing their poems, Oberlin students from the Apollo Outreach Initiative premiered a stop-motion film created with the 16 middle school students in Mrs. Hickerson’s sixth grade language arts class. In the film, the children read their poems and found creative ways to visualize them using paper, chalkboards and even film, in which they would act out their poems.

Following the film, the students and audience members were treated to a large table full of cookies baked by the Cat in the Cream staffers. Middle schoolers swarmed the refreshments as smiling parents and community members marveled at the children’s talent, providing a warm and charming conclusion to a remarkable evening.