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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
To support HoCoPoLitSo’s Writer-In-Residence program in Howard County high schools, consider making a donation.
Guest bloggers Joyce Braga and Sam Rubin share their experiences of this year’s Writer-in-Residence in the Howard County Public School System, Derrick Weston Brown.
His poems have swagger, but the poet
As the high school liaison for HoCoPoLitSo’s writer-in-residence, I’ve guided many poets around Howard County high schools. After I e-mailed Derrick Weston Brown, this year’s writer-in-residence. I prepared myself for our first meeting, scheduled for Nov. 12 at Oakland Mills High School, by reading his biography and his on-line interviews. I expected the usual poet—a little bit of a performer, a lot of ego and touch of swagger. I looked at the picture of Derrick Weston Brown, and knew I was right. But I was wrong, and in a good way.
I met Derrick at the school front desk. I rattled off instructions: Here’s the packet, here are your poems, sign the book, here’s the room. Oh, and please tell me how you want me to introduce you. Derrick seemed surprised, almost shy about telling me his accomplishments.
When Derrick began rather softly to read, I soon discovered why. He’s a very introspective individual. He thinks very deeply about life. He lets the students know “life’s a journey” and not always an easy one. He’s been writing since he was a child. Even with a masters’ degree in writing, getting published was a struggle for him.
As Derrick spoke, the students were fascinated, and so was I. He told the students he likes to eavesdrop on people, and I too felt a little voyeuristic in the classroom, listening to his stories. Rather than giving students his biography, Derrick uses poetry to tell his audience about himself.
As he read, I learned more about Derrick. One poem was dedicated to his father, called “Legacy.” Another was about his mother, called “Mother to Son.” And one poem, which was hard for him to read, was called “Forgiveness.” It was about him belittling a schoolmate. He told the class he’s still looking for that girl. He wants to ask forgiveness.
With each new visit I hope to discover a little bit more about Derrick Weston Brown. I now know he’s not shy, he just likes to let his poems talk for him.
volunteer liaison for
the writer-in-residence program
For Oakland Mills High students,
Brown’s words are supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
As I sat down at the November 12th Derrick Weston Brown presentation at Oakland Mills High School, I truly had no idea what to expect. Shortly after my arrival students started piling in, filling row after row. When Derrick started his presentation, he did not start with a poem or an introduction, rather he started it with a few questions to the class. “Who likes poetry?” he asked first. The audience seemed indifferent. “Who could care less about poetry?” A few went up.
“Who hates poetry?” A few more hands hit the air. “Who likes to write poetry?” A couple of hands rose tentatively.
The questions were a great way to grab the attention of the students, who perhaps did not care about this random writer they had never heard of standing in front of the room.
As the event went on, Derrick read his work, he asked and answered questions and it seemed like he, as well as the students, were having a good time. However, it was not the poetry alone that made the program so enjoyable. Derrick’s interactions with the students seemed so natural and so unplanned that it allowed the flow of the presentation to move artlessly.
One interaction in particular stuck in my mind and I believe will stick in the mind of every audience member at the reading. Derrick asked the students for ten words. After he compiled the list of words, Derrick recited a freestyle improvisation, something he might call an “off the dome” poem. It was an elegant piece, into which he somehow fit “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”
Just as in any class, only a select number of students raised their hands to answer and or ask questions, but perhaps a few more hands will go up next time someone asks “Who likes poetry?”