Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Young Americans

This month I'm hosting two benefit readings. Proceeds go to Reunion Sportive d'Haiti, an organization whose mission is to provide "youth recreational sport activities, education and youth leadership development programs in impoverished communities in Haiti. Working with NOAH, we organize youth annual soccer tournaments and essay competitions in Port-Salut, Haiti, for the children affected by the 2010 earthquake. We have collaborated with Foundation Digicel to build an elementary school in the village of Roche-Jabouin, so that children no longer have to walk three hours to receive a basic education. We believe in working side-by-side with local communities to reduce the effects of poverty, to promote rural economic development, to assist communities in education projects, and to stop the spread of the cholera epidemic by providing clean water and sanitation."

Our cause is obviously a good one, which has drawn the participation of a number of poets I had expected to participate, along with a number I had not. Among this second group are children, specifically the two young sons of a married couple of poets who took part in a benefit on Long Island, for which poets were asked to show up with broadsides of their poems, which they would sell at one dollar each. All proceeds would go to RS Haiti, which they did. Toward the end of the reading, the couple asked whether or not their elder son could step up to the Mic at the Sip This Cafe' in Valley Stream. He read a terrific little poem that he had apparently written a couple of years earlier, after which we all gathered around the table to shop for broadsides and to talk.

In the course of our conversation it came out that the two boys were Presidential trivia whizzes, who had appeared on a number of national political television programs. So here were two prodigies in both American politics and poetry, getting to know their country's landscape and learning to write a kind of plain-spoken poetry of which W. C. Williams would approve. Meeting them made me wonder about how we introduce children to poetry, and about the nature of children's poetry programs across the country. Surely, not every child involved with poetry will have two poet parents who take him or her to adult readings and simultaneously encourage the kind of scholarship that can nourish future work.

What are we teaching kids about and through poetry? What opportunities are we creating for them to encounter poetry? What kinds of opportunities do we think we're creating? Are we creating them just to enrich children's lives or to perpetuate the poetic species, as it were? Are we consciously developing the future voices of American verse?

It follows to ask also what sort of opportunities we create for other population groups limited by age or access. And it is certain that these questions will take this project in a few unexpected directions.

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