“Who remembers what personification is?” ask Veronica Foster ’12 and Rachel Goff ’12, addressing a squirming third-grade class at Williams Elementary School in nearby Oakland, Maine. A hand shoots up. “Something that doesn’t move—like a tree—that you pretend can move and stuff.”
Foster’s poetry career peaked at a young age. But after publishing a book of her poems with a local publisher when she was 9, writing poetry became scary. “I think it sort of ruined me, because everything I wrote after that wasn’t for me anymore. It was like, ‘Will this be another book?’” said Foster. “I stopped writing soon after that.”
Things changed when Foster enrolled in Creative Writing Professor Peter Harris’s course Teaching Poetry in Schools last spring. After the first eight weeks of writing prompts and creating lesson plans, Colby students paired up to teach in local elementary classrooms. “The emphasis was very much on why writing is fun and not scary,” said Foster. “And that was good for me and good for them.”
When other teaching commitments prevented Harris from offering Teaching Poetry in Schools the following semester, Foster and her classmate Melanie Brown ’13 took action. Thanks to them, Poetry in Schools is now a Colby Volunteer Center program with 10 volunteers teaching in five different classrooms at Williams Elementary.
“When you catch kids in elementary school, writing is still fun and it’s still something that you do because you like it, because stories are fun to tell whether they’re in prose or poetry,” said Foster. “The older kids get, the more reserved they are about sharing their original work. … But this is a wonderful opportunity for them to just write without grades. Anything they write is good, because they’re writing.”
But the children aren’t the only ones who benefit. The creative energy provides inspiration for volunteers, too. “It’s being in the classroom, but it doesn’t feel like being in the classroom here [at Colby], where it’s stressful and intellectual and talky and whatever,” said Foster. “I come out of it as affirmed as they do, which is beautiful and lovely.”
Foster and Goff prompt the class to write individual poems modeled after “Hide and Seek” by 2008 Poet Laureate Kay Ryan. “Who wants to share?” asks Goff.
A boy raises his hand, clears his throat, and reads: “It’s hard to stop writing poems.…”