Monday, January 03, 2011

Poetry in the Shelters

Shortly after classes ended last semester, one of my honors freshman e-mailed me to ask if I'd be willing to help out with a project she and a friend were working on for the Honors Program: teaching poetry in homeless shelters.

Of course I said I'd help. I was so proud of her for taking the initiative to do this! I also sent her a list of the bonafide poets in the department, folks more qualified to teach poetry than I am.

Last week, the chair of my department sent an e-mail to all faculty saying that the department, along with Americorps/Vista, is now involved in this project, and asking professors to sign up to teach one of the eight sessions. Today I went to work to hand in my annual-evaluation materials, and I signed up for one of the slots. I was only the second person to do so, probably because so many people are still out of town, but I told our administrative assistant that if there are any remaining openings, I'd be happy to do more.

My chair was in his office, so I stopped by to say hi, and we chatted about the project. The target audience is homeless families; he said he'd been shocked to learn how many schoolschildren in Washoe County are homeless. I'd known that for a while now, the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population has been children. (See, for instance, this site, claiming that 27% of the homeless population consists of children under eighteen. I'm skeptical of statistics in this area, for obvious reporting reasons, but however you look at it, the numbers are scary.) My chair told me he'd been shaken to hear that schoolbuses in Washoe County make regular stops under highway underpasses to pick up the kids who live there.

He hopes the poetry program will do even a little to help these kids. So do I.


  1. That is enough to break your heart.

  2. clairesmum8:08 AM

    the poem that had the biggest impact on me in high school was Langston Hughes "We wear the mask." I did not learn he was black until another decade had passed - but the poem spoke so eloquently of that feeling of having to "wear a mask" to hide my pain. I had been taught how to analyze a poem so I was able to appreciate levels of meaning and the beauty of the words that are in a poem when you 'unpack' it. Kudos to your student and your department and you for taking on this project - you are giving a gift of hope, wrapped in presence and language.


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