A Dream, Deferred

“What happens to a dream, deferred?”

 That’s the question Langston Hughes poses in “Harlem,” the poem we read and emulated today in the Monday juvenile class.  But before we discussed Hughes, or Harlem, or dreams, we jumped right into sharing.  I’d say 7 out of the 16 kids sang at least a hook or a verse, all of it memorized.   Some of the melodies were really catchy, too, and went perfectly with the hooks.

One of our students is leaving tomorrow, and he led off sharing.  There is such mixed emotion with arrival and departure, in this place.  Going anywhere else, whether it’s upstate or home, means a much less stressful environment, but it also tends to be much harsher.  It was so nice to be able to say goodbye to him.  I still have the hook from his performance from last year in my head sometimes, it was that good.

After sharing, we talked about dreams (real dreams), goals, and their intersections.  This lead into close reading “Harlem,” and how he utilizes the five senses.

I created a fill in the blank poem and the kids jumped right into making their own comparisons: “Does it smell moldy like wet paper?”  “Does it float around like a plastic water bottle.”  I asked them to memorize their poems for next week. I’m really excited to see what they come up with! 

I found a really cool teaching source in pedagogy that paired hip-hop songs with poetry called Hip-Hop Poetry and The Classics For The Classroom.  My favorite was so far is a worksheet for “Harlem” and Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy.” We didn’t have time to look at both in a week, so I think we’ll listen to Biggie next week, and write to the prompt: “It was all a dream…”

To be honest, when this class goes well, it makes my whole week brighter.  These kids are so talented and I am honored that they even listen to my advice about hooks and rhymes (and anything, really).  I think I should probably read up some more on songwriting, in general, because these kids are going to run circles around me.

Thanks for reading. 

Mike Bennett, Words Without Walls Teacher






Chapbook Season

It's chapbook season, here at Words Without Walls!  We've been busy with in-class revision, getting reading to submit work to print in the chapbook. The formal reading is only two weeks away. 

I thought I'd share a short poem with you all from one of our students in the Thursday men's class, J. Myers.  J. has come to class with great work throughout the semester, and he's also shown tremendous progress with his writing. This piece isn't going in the chapbook, but he gave us permission to share it here, with you all.  Thanks for reading!

"God Is Real"

So you really think the Sun, moon, and stars came from a big bang.

I wouldn’t buy that for a few dollars and some pocket change.

Maybe you think some alien’s kids are playing some big game,

On this field called a planet with little earthlings.

The body, brain, and heart should at least be some signs,

That all of this couldn’t have just popped up at one point in time.

I rather believe in something and be right,

Than believe in nothing and be wrong.

Cuz if you’re right you have everything to gain,

and if you’re wrong you have nothing to lose, maybe just your soul.

This is no debate don’t be confused it’s out of your control.

But we all have freewill when it comes to our destiny and goals!

Cause life is a gift and death is no surprise,

God is real, God is real, it’s not too late to realize!

--J. Myers

"The Power of a Felony"

Every Monday afternoon, I teach a group of kids at the Allegheny County Jail.  Termed "juveniles" at the jail, they have a separate pod than the adult population, but are still awaiting trial as adults.  Each kid is energetic, creative, and intelligent in his own way.  One student, Kenny, is somewhat shy in class, but at the end of last semester, he handed me a book's worth of poems scribbled on yellow composition paper for me to type.  I was very impressed with his work, and honored that he wanted to share them with me.  Today, I asked him if he wouldn't mind me posting a poem or two on the blog, and he barely hesitated to say I should post "The Power of a Felony."  Without further ado:

The Power of a Felony

Just brainstorming all the wrong I did in my life, and barely did anything nice, and mentally I’m broke, I can’t pay the price.  That’s why I keep a mask on with a smile, ‘cause showing my true feelings isn’t allowed in this situation by myself. 

No COD’s to roll with me cuz I’m my own hope man.

In this cold cell thinking about what this man dressed in black is going to say to me?  Wonder if he’s going to say screw me and throw away my freedom key?!

How is a man responsible for how many years another man do? 

But never took one step in that man’s shoes?

Why are reporters so quick to make you look like an animal in newspapers or on the news?

More money?  More views?  I don’t have a clue. 

And unfortunately that picture that painted about you sticks like glue—eww.

They painted a picture that made you look like you belonged in the zoo.

And to make matters worse your record follows you too and people are more likely not to hire you,

even though you have kids to feed and turned your life around and you’re trying to do good deeds but they ain't trying to hire you ‘cause you have a felony. 

Now how you going to feed your kids?  Rob a bank?

Without harming anyone but that’s not how the man in black is going to think!