I remember my parents reading their favorite poems to us kids. Mom would read “Oh, Captain! My Captain!,” “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” and she would recite “Flanders Field” which she had to memorize when she was in school. Dad’s favorites were “Sea Fever” and “Casey at the Bat.” To this day, I have fond memories of those poems.
My teachers probably read poems to us when we were in elementary school, but my earliest memory of actually studying poetry was in my junior year of high school. Our teacher was young, and she had us work in groups. We chose poems and led the discussion about what those poems meant. I remember that our group brought in lyrics to some songs by Simon and Garfunkle – “I Am a Rock,” “Sounds of Silence,” “At the Zoo” – and we had a great discussion about what the songs meant or symbolized. I realize today how forward-thinking that teacher was; we were so much more engaged in the discussions because the poems were chosen by our peers.
As a mom and a teacher, I made sure to introduce poems to my sons and to my students. I selected the ones I liked from anthologies – A Child’s Garden of Verses was my favorite – and we laughed together when I read them poems by Jack Prelutsky or Shel Silverstein. One of my favorite book of poems was Hailstones and Halibut Bones by Mary O’Neill. We read a different color poem each day, and that book inspired some of my students to write their own color poem.
I admit that I did not teach my students to write poetry. I exposed them to different poetry forms, but there was never an assignment to write a poem. As someone who had never written poetry, I never felt comfortable asking my students to do so. When I became a principal, I saw poems that some of our students wrote, and I was amazed at their insights and their use of words to convey a mood or an idea. I wondered whether I had denied my students an opportunity to try their hand at poetry.
I was mesmerized when Amanda Gorman read her poem, “A Hill to Climb” at the Presidential Inauguration. How, I thought, can a 22-year-old write such mature thoughts at such a tender age? Her poem gave me hope for our country, if only we work together. Then I received a book called Voice: Poetry by the Youth of Kalihi, written by English Language Learner students at Farrington High School here on O`ahu. The students’ voices were evident in their poems, and their words, their thoughts, their feelings were heartfelt. I can imagine the pride these students and their families feel about seeing their poems in a book. Like Amanda Gorman, the voices of these ELL students give me hope. Their optimism, their goals for the future, and their pride in themselves is evident in their poetry. By publishing this book – not an easy task – the teachers gave voice to their students, but they also gave them confidence that their ideas are worthy of publication. If you have an opportunity, go and check this book out.