Last week marked my first South Australian poetry gig, thanks to The Red Room Company: I took a Skype trip to Adelaide to visit the Year 8s of Wilderness School, who are taking part in Red Room Poetry Object.
The Poetry Object is an annual competition open to school students in Years 3–10. Last year, Red Room asked me to contribute my own talismanic poem to the project — and the object I chose was my local Civic Video. In Red Room’s words: “‘Civic Duty‘ is a restrained detailing of the slow death of video rental stores: a period business that may one day be remembered with nostalgia, like milk-bars and roller-discos.”
Our Skype workshops were brief, with 20 minutes per class, so I framed them as conversations. What did the students already know? What did they want to discover? The young women of Wilderness School, it turns out, are pretty clued up when it comes to the mechanics of poetry, so together we unpacked ‘Civic Duty’ — its rhythms and devices — and discussed how they might approach their own poems.
There were plenty of blank faces when I explained my grief at the recent loss of Civic Video Rosalie. It’s enough to make a gal feel old. But it was otherwise wonderful to engage with these students, whose planned poetic talismans range from shells to farmsteads. Their knowledge and enthusiasm about poetry — and their wit — might surprise the bean-counters currently stripping Australian arts and education funding.
The workshop was organised by Ann Rooney, an English teacher at Wilderness School, who wanted the girls to learn that reading and writing poetry are skills that can be learned. I’m with Ann on this. Poetry has a mysticism, sure — as Prof. Dumbledore put it: “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.” But viewing poetry as a craft gives writers control over their word-magic. To give students — especially young women — tools with which to hone their communication and art-making is to empower them.
For me, poetry is a process of fearless editing in the pursuit of what Sylvia Plath called “a closed fist” — poetry as a contained potential energy: a fistful of lightning. I hope I passed even a little of that idea on last Wednesday. And I look forward to reading their object-poems!
Only WA and NT to go before I’ve poeted in all states of Australia. Workin’ on it.
The Poetry Object is open to students in Years 3–10 in Australia and New Zealand. The Red Room Company has a wealth of poetry resources available online for teachers and students. Get in on it.