This residency was made possible by Leonore Gordon PD Arts and Wellness on the Go Fund at Stonewall Community Foundation
On my first day at IS 392, I began by asking students what a poem is. There’s more to poetry, we discovered, than just a collection of lines. This anthology holds the past, present, and future of a group of young poets, artists, dreamers, and citizens, and it has been my absolute privilege to work with them and their words. Poetry, we learned, is something different to every poet: while Pablo Neruda once wrote that “poetry is an act of peace,” one IS 392 student suggested that instead, poetry is an act of protest. In my time at this school, I have seen poems that are acts of courage, self-reflection, and discovery, acts of imagination and hope.
In our first weeks together, students explored ways of writing about themselves. We read a poem by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Brooklyn poet Gregory Pardlo, and students responded by writing about their own beginnings: where they were born. Later, I asked students to write about an object of personal significance to them, and to craft those object-portraits into self-portraits. Students described themselves as cell phones, necklaces, even as drumsticks, revealing something of their identity that might only ever be seen in poetry.
Finally, as 2016 came to a close and this group of poets started in on a new year, I asked them to imagine the future. We read a poem called “Beyond the Years,” by Paul Laurence Dunbar, one of the first nationally-recognized black poets, who wrote at the end of the 19th century, and students responded by writing about the futures that they envision for themselves, their country, and their world. Some chose to write about the year to come, while others wrote their way centuries into the future. As they wrote about the future, they revealed their perceptions of the present too, and showed themselves not only to be talented writers, but also critical, compassionate thinkers, and citizens of a future that we all can look forward to.
I’d like to thank the many teachers and staff members at IS 392 for their collaboration and support throughout this residency: Principal Joseph, Ms. Rance-Fisher, Ms. Tasher, Ms. Jean, Ms. Valentine, Ms. Ordde, Ms. Priester, and Ms. McKenzie. Thank you to Leonore Gordon and Myra Kooy, who generously funded this residency. A huge thank you, always, to the staff at the Teachers & Writer’s Collaborative, Jordan Dann, Amy Swauger, and Jade Triton. And above all, thank you to the students whose words are contained within these pages. Your poems have changed the way I see the world.
Erika Luckert, Writer-in-Residence