When I got the news that I was tapped to be the 2012-2013 HoCoPoLitSo writer-in-residence for Howard County back in early August, I was as nervous as I was excited. The nervousness I mention first because with my own schedule that ebbs and flows with the responsibilities of being a working poet and teacher, I wondered if I could fit these visits in, and more importantly, if I could find my way around in the mysterious Howard County.
Honestly, Howard county was only familiar to me for two reasons: the city Columbia and the absolutely awesome vegan restaurant not too far from Columbia called Great Sage. But beyond the nervousness, my excitement was also sparked by the mystery of the unknown. As my imagination began its snowball’s journey down the hill of infinite possibilities, all sorts of questions were percolating around in my brain . . .
What are Howard County high schools like?
What will they think of my poems?
Will they care?
Will I get lost?
Will they relate to my poems?
How should I present my poems?
Should I just read?
Should I talk and then read, or read and just talk?
I carried all of these questions with me on my first school visit to Oakland Mills High School and I was pleasantly surprised and relieved to find that my first reading would be in the school’s media center. As I scanned the faces of those students that first day as they filed into the library, quietly chatting to each other while stealing looks at me, I was strangely calmed by the spectrum of expressions I saw.
There was curiosity, vague interest, teen-aged skepticism, and of course, the glazed over “Am I really here for poetry?” look. What I realized, after taking in the expressions I saw, was that I had worn each and every look displayed in front of me. I was reminded that I was a high school student once, a student who was immediately skeptical, inquisitive and up-in-arms whenever we were told we had a special guest speaker.
So I bundled up all of my nervousness and excitement, and made myself a promise in the few seconds that remained as Joyce Braga (a HoCoPoLitSo volunteer) introduced me. I wouldn’t read at the students, I wouldn’t lecture the students. To me, poetry is a conversation, a call and response; to rob the person or audience of their right to respond is a crime. So I opened my first reading that day and every day since then with a question. “Who in this room — be honest — actually likes poetry?”
To be continued …
Derrick Weston Brown