Filipino Cultural Heritage Poetry Unit by Parker Burrows

Over the summer, I had the daunting assignment of preparing a lesson plan about the poetry of my culture. As I thought about my cultural background, I realized that preparing a unit on Filipino-American poetry would be perfect. Historically, Filipino and Filipino-American history have not been taught in most schools, and most people don’t know about topics such as Filipino immigration, and the Philippine-American war, which I believe should be basic history education. 

I also decided upon the lesson because of my own desire to connect with my culture. I haven’t met many Filipinos my age, and I hadn’t learned anything about Filipino culture before I began research on my lesson. I was feeling disconnected from myself, and by researching this lesson through the internet, books, and talking to family members, I began to gain a deeper appreciation for my family and my cultural background. 

The lesson itself was quite successful. I decided to focus on the late Filipino-American poet and activist Al Robles, a native of San Francisco who was strongly involved in pro-Filipino movements, such as protesting the demolition of the International Hotel, a popular shelter for many Filipino immigrants. Although the poetry was all from the same author, Robles writes his poetry from a range of voices and topics; one poem was about a wandering immigrant, another was about ethnic empowerment. Each of the poems had various cultural references, which I explained individually, using a slideshow. There was an overarching theme of desperation to assimilate and fit in to American culture, which I felt both related to the theme of my lesson (teaching about forgotten Filipino stories) and to my personal identity (feeling lost and disconnected from oneself). The whole class was engaged and participated enthusiastically in each of the poetry discussions. I wanted to help the class understand the different emotions that Filipino-American immigrants felt during their journey to America, so I gave relevant writing prompts. I asked people to write about a poem about a character who undertakes a difficult journey (like the Filipinos on their way to America), and a poem about feeling extreme desperation (like the Filipinos who are desperate to assimilate in order to have a prosperous life).

I was not the only one who shared my personal experiences. Assistant Principal Monette Benitez, and Spoken Arts head Aimee Suzara were both invited to participate in my lesson, and they spoke about growing up as Filipina women. They echoed similar sentiments as I did, such as feeling disconnected from their heritage and “whitewashed.” Suzara even shared poetry from her book Souvenir, including one striking poem about challenging her high school history teacher to teach about Filipino history. 

At the end of the lesson, many people wrote in their feedback cards that they previously had little to no knowledge about Filipino culture, and that my lesson was informative. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to educate people about important topics that I care about and are frequently ignored.

Creative Writing II Poetry Unit by Tess Horton

The Creative Writing II poetry unit has spanned over the course of the past month. Our artist in residence, Emily Wolahan, structured the six-week unit in a refreshing way: every other week, we read poetry and essays concerning poetry at home, then discuss them in class. Every week in between, we workshop the poems we’ve produced throughout the previous week. This intensive poetry-production-process has tested my ability to constantly keep up the motivation to write. I’ve written poems I like, I’ve written poems I don’t like as much, but the important part of this exercise is that I am writing at all.

Part of the weeks when we aren’t revising is to respond to various in-class prompts that Emily gives us (usually in some relation to a poem/essay we’ve read); one of the prompts I have particularly enjoyed so far was the haibun prompt. A haibun is a three-paragraph prose poem followed by a haiku at the end. Here is the haibun I wrote in response:

The Tambourine Man Haibun

I met the tambourine man behind the carousel when I was a good age. I am not sure whether I was supposed to meet the tambourine man or not. He was sinking in his pinstriped cloak and the hairs shaking on his upper lip seemed to shine, like the black armor beetles sport even on hot Saturdays. The tambourine man was red in many unnatural places. Red on his scalp. Red on his chin and only on the tips of his fingers. Red on the sagging parts of his pants where his skinny knees were supposed to fit. Skinny knees, I thought. The air was hot and I was suddenly glad I wasn’t wearing anything underneath my dress. The tambourine man looked down at me and slapped his hand on his wrist as if he were expecting hard cow skin instead. I was three feet and his bulging sunshine boots were perfect.


Yellow morning was the time I put on sunscreen. The day is early and cold with the promise of heat and pink skin later. White cream becomes a pocket item. I hare that white cream. That white cream is sticky, it sticks to my tongue for many hours after I taste it on my thumb. Soap, like soap. Tied down to a felt seat backwards: is this supposed to be fun? I am sad with the white cream. This morning feels like a white box, sterile from its lack of color, and I feel as if I am suffocating in its whiteness, its medicinal taste.


The circus is wet and dark. The tent is orange, tethered firmly to the dew-grass beneath the tarp, and when my father opens the front curtain and we enter as a family, the white cream against his lapel smears. This tent is large and dark. The tambourine man plays his cowskin arm off to the side, quiet. I smile at him from my mother’s shoulders.


With a gentle hand

The tambourine man leans downwards to greet me

The cream on my hands is sticky, yellow shoes slip against the mud


-Tess Horton, class of 2021

Workshops, Change, and Community By Nadja Goldberg

On Monday, November 18, I taught a portfolio workshop at 826 Valencia with three fellow juniors in Creative Writing. As I looked at the applicants hovering over sheets of loose-leaf paper, I remembered sitting in the same room when I was an eighth grader.

At a journalism workshop I took at 826 when I was eight, I wrote an article titled “Too Many Walgreen’s!” prompted by a record store near my house turning into a Walgreen’s. I took another workshop in which each student brought in a special object to draw and write about. Unlike these previous two workshops, the one in eighth grade amounted to something more. I was not in the warmly-lit back room seeking only a writing activity. I was seeking acceptance into SOTA’s Creative Writing Department in which workshops would become part of my everyday life. Students around me read their work to each other and made playful comments. I became doubtful of myself and my writing when the boy next to me told me my poetry was “bad.”

A student in Creative Writing read my short story about a magician in a crisis after losing his suitcase full of equipment on his way to perform a show in Moscow. I scanned the book titles on the walls over and over as she surrounded my writing with notes. “This is so cute!” she said aloud as she read. I gave a slight smile, relieved. When the student finished my piece, she expressed her feedback, telling me to make the magician’s mother a more relevant character. I revised my story based on the comments I received that evening, and now, three years later, I am immersed in the Creative Writing Department.

As part of the workshop we led, my peers and I discussed teachers, homework, commitment, and details about the department. Afterwards, I reflected on the way I could easily ramble about Creative Writing, and how I did not hesitate to spend my Monday evening helping younger writers join this community that I have grown so fond of.

The two prompts we gave as we taught the workshop were, “Write about an experience that changed you,” and “write about a meaningful friendship.” I considered how I’ve changed since eighth grade and how Creative Writing has played a big role. I thought about the perceptive lens I have learned to use when looking at writing and the world around me. I thought about the friends who bring so much joy and companionship to my life.

-Nadja Goldberg, Class of 2021

For I am Possum, and Possum Isn’t Perfect by Emily Kozhina

I’m at a stage in my life where the most helpful thing for me to do is look to the future. With college applications due in just over a month, all my thoughts have been preoccupied with who I will be and what I will do, as if I’m supposed to have a clue. This stress seeps into my writing, as since the summer, I have found myself introspecting far deeper into my future, writing about the more gruesome and lonelier meanings of what it means to grow up, and eventually, to grow old. But it’s always good to think ahead, I’m told, so I try. 

I’ve been a senior for just about two months now. 

What I’ve learned so far are two things: 

  1. It’s much harder than you’d expect, and
  2. It’s not that bad.

What senior year is, is that insatiable hunger to be the best. I need to be the best for colleges so they’re all crawling to me on their knees, begging me with full scholarships in their fists for me to accept their pleading offers. I need to be the best writer, with a published flash fiction collection under my belt, because after all, what would these past three years in Creative Writing have been for? I need to dedicate every moment of waking time to work, to write, to work on writing, and writing about future work, and only take a pause to breathe when I sleep.

Obviously, this is unrealistic. I am sitting in my pajamas, avoiding eye-contact with my college to-do list and my writing revisions I have yet to make. I am drinking tea that tastes bitter because I left the bag in too long, my library books are long overdue, and I have yet to write back to my pen pal (Sorry, Esperanza). 

Most days I find myself looking in the mirror and seeing a possum staring back at me, wearing my jeans and my sweater, taking too long to tie my boots. This isn’t me, this can’t be me! I want to think, but the possum looks back at me with a sad expression and confirms my fears. When will you come to accept me? It asks, tears whimpering at the corners of its tired eyes.

 I am possum, I have always been possum, and that’s fine. I’ve spent far too long expecting myself to be perfect, and getting frustrated when I am not. Possums are smart, mostly immune to rabies, and sometimes, in the right light, have a sort of glow coming off them from the bottom of the garbage bin. 

I’m trying to get to know the possum in the mirror, and it turns out, she’s not that bad, after all.

Emily Kozhina, Class of 2020

Idea House by Zai Deriu

This last Friday, Creative Writing had our yearly poetry show. We spend the week before rehearsing and reminding everyone we see to come to the performance, and in that time, I reflected back on how much I’ve changed and grown since last year’s show.

My writing has become far more precise and interesting, for one. It’s so much simpler for me to transfer my thoughts into words than it was last year. The fact that I know I’ll only continue to improve through my time in Creative Writing and through the rest of my life is incredibly exciting to think about.

Things that would have terrified me last year, like being the first to read their poem, was not quite so scary. After Heather opened the show and the first sketch was performed, it was my turn to read. My legs started shaking a bit halfway through, and I switched two words around at one point and had to backtrack, but I felt fine. There was no moment of oh god I can’t do this. Then I just got to relax backstage. I took off my shoes so I could walk backstage without the audience hearing my footsteps and listened to everyone’s poems. I didn’t have much time to stress over reading my own work before I did it.

It’s occurred to me this year, especially this past week, how nice it is in Creative Writing now that I know everyone better. In my freshman year, everyone already in the department was open and accepting to me, of course, but this year I feel even more solidified and comfortable in the department in a way I didn’t even realize I was lacking last year. It’s not as though I’m sharing my work with strangers or even close acquaintances but actual close friends.

Creative Writing has an incredibly strong and close-knit community, I might even go so far as to say a family. It’s not just a class that we all happen to be in together, we’re friends who care about each other on a deep level. As we all took a bow to close out the show, it struck me just how quickly last year passed by, and that it will likely continue to pass just as fast. It makes me sad to think that one day I’ll graduate and I won’t get to see my department five days a week, but it also makes me value the time I do have. I don’t want to take any of this time for granted or leave with any regrets in mind.


Zai Deriu, class of 2022

Struggling With Poetry By Otto Handler

Performance poetry is usually the first unit of the year in the Creative Writing department. Last year, as a freshman with two weeks of workshopping summer work, I felt like I wasn’t ready for the unit ahead of me. Not that our performance poetry unit last year was unsatisfactory, quite the opposite. I’m sure I would have appreciated it more if I didn’t have the case of the freshmen nerves.

Our artist-in-residence, Preeti Vangani, has helped me look at poetry with less tribulation. Now, as a sophomore, many things have changed, I have chosen the elements of writing that I feel I am better at. I am becoming more confident in my work as the unit progresses. Poetry is still a form that I need the most work on. I am fine with this fact and still have two more years to work on improving my writing skills in general.

I was able to fully experience and participate more like a full member of Creative Writing during this unit. I have written a more promising peace for the show coming up in late October. I am looking forward to the show because I now have a piece I feel more confident and generally happy about and that I didn’t just choose this piece a few short hours before school. I’ve actually had some time to type up some of the prompts, that I had written throughout the week no matter what I had thought about them originally. This is a poem that I wrote for this year’s performance poetry unit:



You don’t like that word?

You like that word?

Burn in hell

I don’t care

Because I hate it

So, we’re gonna change it


And I mean NOW!

The world will immediately and without noise bend to my will.

No one and nothing will ever describe anything as unchangeable again

No more unchangeable ADHD

No more unchangeable slow processing

No more unchangeable other things


How ‘bout

We knock the two letters “U” and “N” off a cliff

Never to be heard from again.

Let’s see what we have left.

You see, everything just becomes changeable.

Unsatisfied becomes satisfying

Uneven becomes even.

Unfortunate becomes fortunate

How does that sound.


I know and don’t care if its not grammarly correct.

That’s not the point.

What is the point one asks?

To change that mental mindset everyone carps about

No those words suck too

When one uses those words

They make me want to run away screaming






I know all of this

Small stupid rant

sounds too positive

So full of sunshine

So full of promise

So full of hope

So, I assure you

It will never happen

The two letters are

way too important to the English language.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t hope.


-Otto Handler, Class of 2022

First Field Trip as a CW Freshman by Isabella Hansen

On the first Wednesday of the school year, Creative Writing takes a trip to the Asian Art Museum. This being my first field trip as part of the CW community was a bit daunting. It started with me trying to work the terrible evil MUNI machines to try and get a ticket and having to hurry after the rest of CW. But after that, the trip turned out to be quite fun. We were all assigned a writing prompt and spread out around the many exhibits that inhabited the quiet space. One thing that I noticed was how easy it was for everyone to pull out their notebooks and write. I chose an interesting painting and sat down to examine it. Then I started writing. After we all finished with the prompt, we assembled down in the main entrance. A few other freshmen and I took the elevator with someone already in it to get down. One of my fellow freshmen was wearing a SOTA hoodie, so the guy asked us if we went to SOTA. And at that moment, packed into a tiny box, I realized that I go to SOTA for CW, and all the work that I put into my application paid off. And I was very pleased with my younger 8th-grade self for not giving up while writing another poem for the application. The poem I have written while gazing at that painting is one I treasure because it’s what I call my first “official” creative writing poem.


Their naked bodies glistened with sweat,
Squirming as the hot flames licked their smooth backs.
The putrid stink that flew out of the shell they pressed their ruby-red lips to
Drifted and landed on the shiny colorless beads that adorned their long beetle shell black hair.
A long white shell necklace that hung well past their quaking knees,
Swayed with the slight breeze they lapped up like a dehydrated dog.

Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder
But only a lucky few can stare at the two dancing creatures
And dive deeper
Past the scars
Past the hideous smiles
And descend into the lair
Of the kindness that landed the creatures there
Forever dancing with the fire.

Their eyes are flat as stiff paper
From the decades they have spent up
In the red sky of lit flames
Twirling with the embers that never stopped burning
Much like the tiny bit of hatred hidden away in their hearts.
Because even though it was the kindness that tossed them there,
Hatred is what kept them.

Some say it’s a warning,
Gawking at the apparent pain that these creatures exhibited.
Do not be too kind;
Just look at what happened to them,
Cursed with scars and pain
All because of the pity they chose to show.

And now,
The gawkers have passed
Learning to keep their eyes away
In fear that their once long-passed kindness
Can awaken and devour them whole.


-Isabella Hansen, Class of 2023

Letting a Poem Breathe by Kaia Hobson

In September, Creative Writing was led by our assistant director, Ploi Pirapokin, in a two-week flash fiction unit. During the unit, I realized that flash fiction is what my poetry tends to imitate. During the workshopping sessions at the beginning of the year, I was often told that my poetry could also take the form of a piece of prose, but thought little of it, either expanding the poem I had written, or ignoring the comments altogether. When I do write poetry, sometimes I feel as though I’m cramming too many situations and ideas into a single piece. I try to stop myself, remembering to hone in on the small and to move the focus outwards as I write, but sitting down to write poetry is usually comprised of me frantically sifting through whatever I’ve thrown up onto the page, trying to find that one concise nugget of a poem. When asked to write a 500-1000 word flash fiction piece, I immediately saw it as an opportunity to drop the sifter and make use of the wiggle room I found in prose and flash fiction.

If I had ever accidentally written flash fiction before, I definitely did not know I was doing it at the time. I wasn’t aware that this writing style was its own entity, nor did I realize how much I would enjoy it. Writing my final piece for this unit felt like finally learning the name of a song that you’ve liked for some time. I was able to let all my ideas breathe, and sit comfortably with the knowledge that I could include everything I wanted to express without the piece feeling unfocused and scattered. Although I do sometimes appreciate the discipline that the structure of poetry requires, the greater freedom provided by the flash fiction genre allowed me to feel comfortable with expressing the volume of ideas that would otherwise detract from the essence of my poetry. I look forward to using flash fiction as a vehicle for those times when the brevity of a poem feels inadequate.


Kaia Hobson, Class of 2021

Whirlwind of Spices, a poem by Anya Patel

Whirlwind of Spices

A whirlwind of spices

Can make you cough

The powder gets breathed deep into your lungs

It tickles the back of your throat with its wings

A whirlwind of spices

Can make your eyes water and twitch

The particles dissolve on your pupils and make them itch and burn

A whirlwind of spices

Can make you feel nostalgic

your mother is holding your hand as you stir a big pot

A whirlwind of spices

smells like a restaurant explosion in the kitchen

hot and exciting

A whirlwind of spices

Flutters down on your skin

Like someone is blinking on your arm

Someone with spices dissolved on their pupils

For this poem, I had an original draft with the same topic, but I used re-imagining techniques to revise it, and this was one of them. I wanted to make the reader feel like they are at home, and help them really imagine what is going on by using sensory details. I tried to really explain what it would feel like to be in a “whirlwind of spices.” This was really interesting for me to write because as I was writing it, I tried to put myself in the mindset that I was in the middle of it all. Just watching from a safe spot, and thinking and feeling everything, but less dramatically then everyone on the outside.

I used repetition in my poem to remind the reader the setting, to keep bringing them back to that one concrete image that is like a break from all the abstract. I kept thinking about the sensation of spices burning your eyes and nose as I was writing this, and also the feeling of it glittering down on your skin.

-Anya Patel, Class of 2023

Poetry and Mental Health by Parker Burrows

After spending over a year in the Creative Writing department, I can say that this department has given me some of the most enriching life experiences I can ask for. I’ve had the opportunity to meet several intelligent and friendly people that I get to share every single school day with, and I’ve gotten to read tens of impressive pieces of writing. I’m extremely thankful for the department and have little to complain about.

However, my experiences in Creative Writing are often reduced by my struggles with mental health. Much of my time last year revealed little productivity as a product of depression and anxiety, and I’ve had similar issues this year as well. I’ve found many mechanisms of coping, but one that has helped me a great amount is to try to understand my experiences through writing. I’ve found poetry’s obscure language to be a great device to describe my self-uncertainties. Much more than fiction or playwriting, poetry helps me realize that it’s okay to not always know why emotions appear the way they do.

This year, I was asked to write a poem about a change I’ve undergone this summer. I decided to write about my outlook on depression. Essentially, I realized that my thoughts don’t make an effect on how the world works, just on how I perceive it. I’m slowly working on developing a positive perspective about my depression, and this poem has been a huge help in the process.

My Mind is Not the World 

Whether the skylights open

When I’m restless in bed The night still

speaks And the shatters of glasses

and plates Remain the same through

the evening

As they do all



And no matter the days I shake and cry At the people and the

volcanic pressure of an inflexible universe The moon still

shines through the skylight

above my bed If there was ever a

storm in my bedroom, The city gardens certainly wouldn’t

notice They’ve looked the same since I got here


My tears are not what halts the world The

world moves like it always does In

renewing, constantly undiscovered beauty

My thoughts are not my experiences And

my experiences will always unfold If there

was ever a storm in my bedroom, The

universe certainly wouldn’t notice.


– Parker Burrows, Class of 2022