Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

Rewriting Struggles as Strength: Young Adults' Reflections on the Significance of Their High School Poetry Community

Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

Rewriting Struggles as Strength: Young Adults' Reflections on the Significance of Their High School Poetry Community

Article excerpt

In his NCTE Presidential Address, Keith Gilyard argued that creating opportunities for youth to express themselves creatively and in their own words could transform schooling into a space of possibility for youth. He claimed that the "creative representing of experience provokes inquiry, analysis, and, in some instances, we hope, compassionate embrace" (Gilyard, 2013, p. 344) for youth who have otherwise felt constrained by schooled literacies. In a similar vein, in his work with youth who experienced what he called urban trauma, Ginwright (2010) found that "healthy relationships are fundamental prerequisites for radical care between youth and adults" (p. 76). These appeals to relational, creative pedagogies arise in a moment when many youth experience failure in schools. Given this need to reimagine schooled learning, poetry writing is one practice with potential to foster healing relationships for youth who have felt shunned or marginalized in schools (Chappell & Cahnmann-Taylor, 2013; Weinstein, 2010).

With activist roots, spoken word (Fiore, 2013; Fisher, 2005; Jocson, 2008; Sutton, 2004) offers a frame for addressing the issue of how to structure classrooms as safe spaces for students to grapple with their realities, especially considering that many public schools are experienced as unsafe for students of color (Leonardo & Porter, 2010). Extant research has examined the ways teachers have invited poetry into classrooms as a tool for empowerment that enables youth to represent themselves and their experiences in their own language (Dyson, 2005; Fisher, 2003, 2005, 2007; Jocson, 2005; Kinloch, 2005). For example, Fisher (2007) found that an intergenerational in-school poetry practice created an apprenticeship for youth to nurture literate identities that honored their own voices and life experiences. Fisher (2005) also found that these practices liberated youth who felt they were seen as having deficits in classrooms that demanded mastery of an authoritative way of speaking and being. With a focus on youth spoken word (YSW) pedagogy and programming, Weinstein (2010) found that the shared discourse of YSW catalyzed development of literate identities that were therapeutic and advantageous to students. Through writing, Jocson (2005) found that students moved from being objects of representation to commenting on the worlds they inhabited as a way to "write" the wrongs they witnessed and to make them the focus of critical dialogue. In their studies of conditions in large urban schools, Fine (2003) and McCormick (2000) found that inviting poetry into classrooms activated potential for breaking through the silence that often pervades schools and for creating what McCormick called "aesthetic zones of safety" in which youth were free to produce counter-stories and counter-meanings to the ones handed to them by others. Both Love (2014) and Muhammad (2015), in her study with African American girls, contended that forms of urban storytelling, including spoken word, are critical in empowering students to challenge limiting dominant narratives. Art-based in-school classes offer spaces to explore how community literacy practices might contribute to what Hull and Katz (2006) described as the enactment of agentive selves by encouraging rewriting of historically reproduced ascribed identities for minoritized youth. This assertion of counter-stories has the potential to shatter homogenizing narratives and labels associated with school failure and other stigmas (Shapiro, 2014). Together, these findings highlight spoken word as a possible avenue for forging critical change in urban schooling.

This article builds upon extant works by taking a retrospective perspective to analyze what a group of young adults who had experienced urban trauma (Ginwright, 2010)-defined as experiences of systemic oppression including but not limited to school failure-remembered as meaningful about an empowering poetry class from high school. I explore how these particular youth carried forward their learning from the poetry circle, as well as the ways it continued to be meaningful for them as they became young adults. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.