Principle #1: Trust the students/participants
Principle #2: Trust the process
Principle #3: Trust each other
That’s it. These three principles emerged early in the development of the Poetry Project and solidified with each of the projects. The purpose of these Principles is to establish ideas at the core of the LCC Community-Generated Poetry Project so that it has a clear identity and can “travel” (with me, Barb Clauer, obsessed creator/designer of the LCC Community-Generated Poetry Project 🙂 ) in order to easily connect with other projects, events, and areas.
Trust the students/participants:
Principle #1 burst into existence out of my angst surrounding the first large Poetry Project Spring 2018 (link to “Inaugural” post) when my collaborators and I worried about the tone/intentions of one of the student-collaged poems, “Last Chance of College”. I acknowledged my own discomfort with the poem – the students had chosen to leave in all the grammatical and diction errors from the raw material, and wove their poem together in a way that seemed to highlight the “mistakes” – but I resisted stepping in beyond asking the authors about their intentions, and then simply asking if the poem was as they meant it to be: Yes, it was. So, despite my concerns, I decided it just felt right to stand to the side and let the students lead, regarding their poems, as we all navigated this first Poetry Project. During the performance of the poems at StarScapes April, 2018, the way one of the student authors read “Last Chance of College” made it the most compelling, moving, and complex poem of them all. Go figure. Trust the students.
Trust the process:
Principle #2 also began to emerge during the first Poetry Project in that, for me, a core aspect of the process for the large, semester-long Poetry Projects has been that the raw material is gathered anonymously. When, as part of the process, the poets, read, choose, and weave together all that raw material, powerful, complex, and sometime uncomfortable themes become evident. The anonymity built into the process gives the authors of the poems a buffer that allows them to shine a light on whatever they may find.
Specifically, for the first Poetry Project, the raw material came from questions centered loosely around the topics of LCC, community, college, and Lansing, and what emerged in the anonymous responses wasn’t exactly a PR dream ready for billboards. For example, each poem ended up including the phrase “last chance college” somewhere in it. However, what the poets, LCC students themselves, found in all that raw material was honest, defiant, sometimes angry, but ultimately also hopeful. And, most importantly, it illustrated the creativity, resilience, and perseverance of our student body. Trust the process.
Trust each other:
Principle #3 came into focus during the Fall 2018 Poetry Project with Professor Judy Allen exploring the concepts surrounding homelessness (link to post). Professor Allen was working on what came to be her docu-play I Have a Name. She had a clear vision for her work and was initially hoping for a poem with a somewhat specific focus and tone. Early in our meetings about how a Poetry Project might work within her larger project, I expressed concerns about directing the outcome too much. I advocated for trusting the students (Principle #1) and the process (Principle #2) to create something simultaneously useful within Professor Allen’s play and valuable to the students involved in the Poetry Project (those responding to the prompts as well as the poets).
We ended up designing the project to produce two poems: one intended for the beginning of the play and one intended to be incorporated later in the play, with the idea that the trajectory of the play and the focus of the poems would allow students to journey from limited understanding about homelessness to more understanding just as the play would, hopefully, do for its audience. Professor Allen was incredibly open to my initial concerns and ideas as well as to the mantra “Trust the Students” throughout. We worked collaboratively to create a Poetry Project that produced two wonderful poems performed in her amazing play. Trust each other
Trust is the core Principle for The LCC Community-Generated Poetry Project overall. With its interconnected nature, the Poetry Project encourages the whole LCC community to trust each other: I trust my colleagues will be willing to participate with their classes, we all trust the students to respond purposefully to the questions and prompts, the poets trust me to guide them through the process and that they will find compelling language in the raw material written by their fellow students, and I trust my students to jump into this invitation to create something together from the piles of words representing time and effort from their fellow students. Additionally, The College trusts me to keep finding ways to implement and grow the Poetry Project seeking always to explore complex concepts, deepen connections, and expand our world.
With the beginning of each Poetry Project, I often think of and am inspired by one of my favorite poems, “A Noiseless Patient Spider”, by Walt Whitman, regarding the hope, trust, and courage it takes to explore ideas as well as seek connections.
A Noiseless Patient Spider
A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.
— Walt Whitman