Recently, Eva Whitney and I were invited to teach a lesson at 826 Valencia in the San Francisco Mission district. The building is well-known as a pirate-themed gift shop, but that is only a front: tucked away in the back room is a student outreach and tutoring program. The goal was to pack the young attendees full of poetry over a two-day period, and therefore make poetry more accessible and less daunting. We began a feverish hunt online, looking for poems that would clearly demonstrate one of six crucial literary devices: metaphor, simile, personification, form, repetition, alliteration, and rhyme. The irresistible allure of our lesson lay in the theme of San Francisco, which tied all the poems together. We hoped this would help the students identify with the content of the pieces, which we then hoped would lead to interest in the devices used therein.
As we crawled through countless poetry websites like starving men across a desert, it became apparent that very few poets write a poem with a literary device as their inspiration, as we planned to have the students do. When we got to the lesson with our jumbled bag of poems in hand, shifting from one foot to the other, it was easy to believe nothing we said would make any sense at all. In Creative Writing, much of the learning we do is analytical, zooming in on each word. I wondered: would any of my yammering make sense to people who are not exposed to this three hours a day and five days a week?
Whether or not the students will take the literary devices we introduced to their graves, I believe we reached our objective: everyone wrote an interesting poem or prompt. It was captivating to hear writing that was pristine, that just spilled out of the tops of the students’ heads, written very quickly and with little warning. The students were not huge talkers, but I found that I could learn more about each person through the prompts that we forced them to share. Even if the technicalities of poetry did not impress the students, I think that writing it left them with confidence about poetry, and maybe they’ll even come knocking at the door of Creative Writing during high-school application time.
Rae Kim, class of 2020