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Poetry Gives Voices to the Voiceless
by Danie Weaver, Director, School of Communications
Poetry and I have had a love and hate relationship. While I was a child, poetry was my outlet. At family parties I shared fun poems about my thoughts and feelings about the holiday. Poetry was full of beautiful images of feelings, colors and traditions. However, that impression of poetry changed when I went to college. The professor had the belief that poetry was the author’s hidden agenda and not about nature, feelings, or beautiful imagery. It was just devoid words on a page emotion. And most of the analysis of said poetry was regurgitated back to please my professor. I began to hate poetry. College also became the time that I discovered that I had a learning disability that corresponded mostly to math, formulas, and also correlated with grammar. I trudged through and I graduated with my Bachelors in English with the belief of two things:
- I would never teach!
- I would avoid poetry at all costs!
All of these ideas changed when I got diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2011. Poetry was my solace for all the questions, emotions, and just navigating the new normal of being a cancer patient. Poetry was also not constricted with grammar. I could write whole lines void of grammar, lines of poetry that flowed through my pen to the page much like questions that ran through my head. Poetry with its freedom allowed me to focus and control one aspect of my life. I’ve often found solace in writing, but my poetry wasn’t hiding behind a character. It was fully me. All of me exposed.
While I was having cancer treatments, since my husband was working, I needed to have people stay with me during the day. I got the chance to observe a Showboaters class at College of Adaptive Arts. My younger sister was attending this class. I was impressed with the amount of respect given to the students. I knew I wanted to be part of the organization. So I connected with the Dean and said I could teach Poetry. Apparently my life plan had changed, because now I was okay with poetry and teaching.
The dean jumped at the idea of a poetry class and I started an evening class with four students. I was unaware how much independent writing they could do. I led them through an “I Am poem,” a basic poetry form, which engages the writer in simple but poignant statements from feelings to the physical world. The answers were simple but complex, beautiful and normal. I realized that my students had a unique way of viewing the world. The greatest praise I received for that class was that one of my students felt smart for the first time in his life.
The next quarter I had 12 students all ready and willing to open their minds to beautiful words and stirring images. We navigated the world of haikus, sonnets, villanelles, and imagery. While doing that we discussed issues like seizures, cancer, bullying, American pride, and difference of opinions about things. I realized that I had given more than the gift of beautiful images but the freedom to have an opinion. The students blossomed and were able to have an opinion about what lines were poetry material. They were viewing the world in a different way than they had before, in their world where everything was chosen for them now they could choose. Having a different opinion from others was okay. That choice became as simple as what image to use to describe the color red and that if we had different ways to describe the color red, that’s okay. Not only did I find my voice in poetry, my students found their voices as adults.