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Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Guest Poets

When I taught, I began bringing guest poets to the class on accident. I had tried to hire poets to lead a long workshop with my students over the course of several weeks, but they were only interested in working with inner city schools. Our suburban school was--well--too affluent, too successful already.

But when they needed money to buy a plane ticket for Regie Gibson, they called me. Thankfully we had three hundred dollars left over from selling cookie dough. It was earmarked for our publication costs, but I figured we would get more later.

Regie was motivational, aggressive, talented, and riveting. He made the students respect words. And he awed us with his slam performance of "Jimmy Christ," an elegy for Jimmi Hendrix.

Later we brought Amy England and John Poch and Cary Clack.

We tried to pay the writers for their time, but the three hundred dollar honorarium was difficult. On the one hand, my students valued the poets and writers more because they had raised the money themselves in bake sales and door to door peddling of the most humiliating kind. On the other hand, fund-raising was just one more thing. As a teacher, my first priority was teaching and assessing my students. Enrichment opportunities like these workshops brought my students to life, but they took a tremendous amount of effort. I was left empty and drained and questioning so much work for so few students for so little pay.

In the end, though, I just had to do it. I couldn't not collaborate, and I genuinely loved working with professional writers.

What I didn't know then was that I had independently discovered the advantages of working with consultants. These writers didn't say anything I hadn't already said. They talked about metaphor and imagery. Many of them were pretty dry teachers, even. But they were the real deal. They were the ones published in Best of American Poetry. They were the editors of magazines. They were the hosts of HBO's Def Poetry Jam. I was just the teacher, but they were writers. They were poets. They were published.

Read one of my favorite John Poch poems. Consider subscribing to his magazine 32 Poems.

While you're at it. Check out these other poets and writers, too: Amy England, Cary Clack, Regie Gibson.

HillCountryWriter Category: Poetry Teaching
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