Burke students explore poetry 

Nine Times: Musicians weren't the only artists to shine at Spoleto's Chamber Series

In my last column I talked about Geoff Nuttall playing the hero for a group of Burke High School kids at a Spoleto Chamber Music concert. But the even brighter highlight from the day was the poetry the kids wrote about it.

"The music was like the sea / the music was like running from someone / The music was like / rain before a thunderstorm / the music was like a curious girl." — Alvin Brooks.

The students were all ninth graders, who at Burke have their own Academy in the old building. Earlier in the spring, Richard Garcia, a California poet now living on James Island, and I led a series of workshops in Lavern Gadsden-Brown and Howard Hyde's English classes.

The kids wrote Lie Poems, Blues Poems, Playing Pool with Coltrane Stories, Praise Poems, Bananaverse, poems written using Chinese menus or while holding a paperwhite bulb, among others.

The workshops and the printing of a compilation (Nine Times) were funded by a grant from the College of Charleston's Center for Partnerships to Improve Education, initiated by the Lowcountry Initiative for the Literary Arts (LILA).

For the educationSpoleto field trip, I picked up seven young writers on their penultimate day of school and headed for the French Quarter.

"The wind blows through the flute like a hummingbird through wildflowers, together they sound like a frog doing ballet on a lily pad on a stream." — Ashley Wigfall, writing while listening to Renaissance-era songs from the Golgau Songbook, transcribed by Charles Wuorinen.

I asked them to try and make comparisons, to use their five senses and to "name names" — not in the McCarthyite sense but more in the William Carlos Williams "No ideas but in things" sense.

One suggestion was that they write a Delight Song — a prompt inspired by American Indian writer N. Scott Momaday. Each lines starts with "I am..."

"I am the air blown into the clarinet/ I am the sweat of the violin player/ I am the creaks coming from chairs in the audience/ I am the crackling of a candy wrapper/ I am the music putting the student asleep/ I am the silent pause between the music/ I am the pain in the neck of the tired violinist." — Kimberly Bowman.

This being an all-star group, they weren't going to be limited by prompts. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's Clarinet Quintet in A Major brought this phantasmagoria out of Ashley Wigfall:

"A sandwich of lush green lettuce dancing on butter bread. Mayonnaise slides slowly onto the bread. Now the ham sweet of honey lies on top — the swiss and mozzarella covers him in a sheet of cheesiness. Here comes turkey and roast beef leaping with joy at their good fortune."

The other writers were Muräd Beaton, Ashley Brown, Danzell Smith, and Brandon Molette. Each wrote at least one poem. Most school news these days comes in the form of statistics — such and such school scored in such percentile on some test. I think 18 poems out of seven ninth graders on a muggy June day is a good number.

"The music is playing to each cursived letter in my name" — Ashley Wigfall.

Another stat dear to Jonathan Sanchez's heart is the number of homers Ken Griffey Jr. needs for 600 (14 as of this writing).


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