This week class was canceled because of an grade-wide assembly, which I was lucky enough to catch. The 8th grade principle introduced the speaker saying Ms. Gloria, a slam poet from Baltimore, helped her, three years ago, to overcome her son's sudden death through poetry. The principle had started to write following her 30 year old son's shooting, from point blank range outside of a nightclub in downtown Baltimore, and after being paralyzed with grief for nearly a year, she was able, with help, to return to her duties at school.
Ms. Gloria's poetry I think inspired the kids better than our classes have been doing. There was something about the way she was engaging them- she didn't try to teach, and slam poetry relies on performance and not form, sounding out more like hip hop lyrics with alliteration and style than with the meter in which it is delivered. I think the performance aspect- the fact that she was a show was important.
Ms. Gloria was also a story. She was black, mid 40's, medium build, pregnant. She described her first marriage and her drug addict husband in detail, recalling tearfully the night when she left him after he attacked her, junked out, while she was holding her two week old daughter. I think the kids, some of whom I've begun to talk with and who have stories of their own, were taken by her honesty and the fact that she's created something of her woes, something valuable and something that others can identify with. It's nice to see poetry put to use this way. And after crying, the kids were hysterical as Ms. Gloria moonwalked across the stage and described how different she was from Michael Jackson. She said, let me count the ways.