Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Voces 2009

Mikaela says:
Another year, another successful wrap-up to Voces: Writing Institute at the NHCC. This year's challenges? Teaching with a baby on your hip while corralling 26 (!) creative minds to think past cliches in expressing your deepest feelings.

Another change this month was the introduction of a blog by the kids, for the kids, put together with the help of dynamo Kenn Rodriguez, who in addition to being a great poet & performer brought his journalism and technological skills courtesy of Americorp. You can see blog entries, poems, and performances here. Pretty cool window into the creative world of Voces!

My friend Lisa came to the final performance, as she has each of the past 4 (?) years. Listening to 2+ hours of teen poetry can be a bit trying at times, but Lisa seems to see past the occasional groan moment to get charged up with the energy and passion these young folks shower on the crowd.

My daughter didn't last past the first two applause moments. She's not big on whistling, it turns out. Daddy whisked her home, so Momma got to go out for a well-deserved cider after the show! Woo-hoo! There, she caught a glimpse of the famously fabulous Gene Grant, who applauded seeing me "out" late on a Friday evening. Gene was a part of Voces again this year, taking part in a journalism panel with Kenn and a young woman from the Alibi. The kids adored him, of course.

And me? I didn't get much writing done this year. Between caring for an infant, editing 26 kids' poems (up to 4 pieces each turned in each Friday and returned each Monday), and working on another consulting gig report also due at the end of June ... I was pretty tapped out. I did get a good dose of writer's guilt, though. A certain little lady in Texas needs a certain wedding present poem that's been brewing slowly since April. At this point, the poem will probably have the gestation of a real baby, and the labor will probably take about as long as Umea's: a solid five days. Such is the price of life, I guess!

I also got a happy dose of pride in this program. So many of the kids mentioned how much the program has meant to them personally and how influential it's been in their lives, showing them a world where they can be honored for who they are and what they think, not for their stereotypes or their "cool" factor. As one of our success-story kids told me: "It's so sad that not giving a shit is cool." Well these kids learned that caring and succeeding can also be cool and feels a lot better, even though -- and maybe especially because -- it's hard work.

That same student came to Voces three years ago unable to read or write. He just won the state Slam competition this year. He now goes to the schools with Carlos Contreras -- mentor of the Voces program -- and performs his poetry to inspire other students to share their voices, too. For him, the knife edge of his previous life -- slinging and gangs -- is always there, but he tries to remember how much better it feels to be a poet than to be "hard," acting the badass to intimidate others not to fuck with you.

He told me his story over lunch one day. We both had tears in our eyes, and I felt for a moment how high the stakes were for him, how much he clung to the world opened to him through poetry, how much he appreciates the window of opportunity Voces provided him. All I could say was that the work had all come from him. All we did was set the expectations and encourage him that he could do this: speak with power. The rest was all his voice and his bravery and hard work to use it.