High School Outreach
Poets Out Loud’s high school outreach fosters an interest in reading, writing, and listening to poetry. Focusing particularly on students from underserved communities, the program is run in collaboration with high schools and with the organization Girls Write Now.
About an hour before each event in the series, our high school participants gather for a workshop on the poets who are going to read, which the poets themselves join for the final 10 minutes. We are able to offer a light dinner of sandwiches as well as the literary fare. The workshops are led, after consultation with the high school teachers, by advanced Fordham graduate students who are experienced teachers and poets themselves. The high school students join the rest of the audience for the reading. (They are eligible for a drawing in which winners receive a free, inscribed book from one of the poets.)
In the final event of the year, 2-3 students from each school or organization participating with us read their work together with a distinguished poet. We encourage friends of the high school students and family members if it’s feasible for them to attend to come to this reading.
Featured Poems from 2014-2015 Student Poets
I remind myself
that I began as nothing
more than a wisp of dust
scraped from the curbs
of Simpson and Bathgate avenue,
a solution of saliva, piss, and dirt
that froze into a public
statue, stuck inside every planet
not white or blue-blooded
but red, still green, still black
still life-in red, incubated
in the womb of poverty
like my hero, who left
broken teeth in front of the church on Lenox
uniforms wrinkled and torn
because every other boy's parents
fought for him to be here.
Between the dregs of 163rd and the suppliers
on the northeast corner of Castle Hill
I realize I am a reminder
of every generation's first
problem, Mother's first
force of habit, the first thing
the priest cursed in the morning
and the last thing grandmother prayed for
at night because God knows our parents
needed a blessing, and history
pleaded with him to let their words be one.
My God, believe me when I say
that I am humble, but Lord I am also aware
that I have crossed the streets of new beginnings
I know that I am the answer
to grandmother's prayers
a reason for a father's change of heart.
But I need to hear it from you—am I still
a bottle of Hennessey, abandoned in a back room
at a house party—or am I clay
softened by Jamaican rum,
molded by the force of you
on the corner of 37th and 8th, just
off the park at 110th
Have I made you smile
by making an inmate laugh or
stroking the wounds of a boy
who knows no tender love?
Am I not you?
made in the image
modeled after your finest creation
with the preservation of 1000
I need you to tell me something
sit down here on the stoop
of 182nd street and look me in the eyes
and God tell me that I am
of value, that I have done something
worth recounting to your angels
even if I am no diamond
I am the best
in Grand Concourse station
lend me your strength
because Lord I need to kiss
these cuts and bruises too
I'm having trouble reaching
the parts of myself
that are hidden underneath
a public school uniform
God, if you cannot touch me
to feel me, hold me within
the embrace of your breath
I need you
I need you
Lord, have mercy on these streets
because I need you
In the same way prophet
tell me which cross walk to run
across next, which train to take
in what direction. What scripture
I need to become the roadmap
to whatever destination
gets me to you.
Boys don’t cry, says my mother.
Why are you crying? She asks my brother.
Are you a girl?
Don’t let me see another
tear escape your eye.
Don’t let me hear another
whine from your lips
or else I’ll give you something to really cry about.
Boys don’t cry, says my mother.
You’re not a girl, she tells my brother.
Such a normal human reaction
should be kept underneath
a skin that is still yet soft,
but will soon turn harder than
the sobs that rock your being.
Boys shouldn't cry, yells my mother.
Only girls cry, she repeated to my brother.
I didn't have another
girl when i had you.
Take that shit off before your father
using all that shit to cover what’s under
the flesh, the skin, the bone, the marrow—
that which can be none other
only human my boy,
but you ain't no girl.
Boys dont cry.
You ain't no girl.
Are you gay?
My world and I disagree, therefore this is my conflict.
My dreams are broad but my walls are narrow and I’m cooped up like a convict.
Or more like a school child; because they mean the same thing now.
A typical schedule from 8-3 and that will only get you a high school degree.
Walk across the stage. Congrats! You are now a statistic.
Triple beam balance, I weigh my options. Damn! I’m conflicted!
I scotch tape my wounds and when I sweat, it just rolls back.
Then I realize I need more so of a Velcro strap to hold my emotions back.
And in this way, I’m like an umbrella. Yes! It has rained on me.
Water springs from my pupils, I can barely see.
Hold up my Totes in the sun so that it can be my protection.
Protect. Isn’t that what condoms are supposed to do. Yet there is a daycare on the 1st floor of my school.
Sex! Amongst the teens it seems to be the hot topic.
But maybe I am just a little too myopic.
For whenever they speak of it I want them to stop it.
Because the concept is a little hard for me to grasp, too complicated to depict.
I simply call them my conflicts.
I close my eyes, and then open them and just like that another one of us is deceased.
I observe the little black boy with the curious eyes as I travel on my daily commute.
Head cocks to the side as his ears perk at the sound of screaming.“Hands up, Don’t shoot!”
He doesn’t understand what it means now.
Fast forward 20 years it could then be his face in the ground.
Oh no! But he looks like a good boy, but so was Mike Brown.
And we all heard when Eric said he couldn’t breathe but Cops didn’t hear a sound.
Throwing us down the drain like the water after you boil pasta
Prosthetic hands reach out to help us but they are just imposters.
Back and forth we play judicial tag. Oh no not another label?
They tag us like we are cows becoming their beef.
Because, we are held captive, when will the minorities be released?
Hit and miss like darts. When will the points stick?
Ticking off checks as I go down the list of my conflicts.
When teachers are forced to lie to me; saying that test determine my destiny.
Scold me because my brain doesn’t process Trigonometry.
Ten years later those lessons and my job are far from correlated.
Yet I have to sit 45 minutes a day to find an “x” to your equation.
An equation that I may never solve.
A disdain for those numbers may never dissolve.
And the irony,
That school has the audacity to advocate equality, yet, the students segregate naturally.
Where do I fit in?
And then it clicks that when I walk into the lunchroom I don’t belong to a clique.
Maybe I’m described as “other” because my heart and mind doesn’t choose friends by color.
The crowd will part like the red sea, but where do I fit.
I just walk down the center because this is one of my classified conflicts.
Genetically Modified You
by creators of your legacy
teachers and storytellers
their words the soil
sealing your place in the ground
fresh earth the perfect place to plant seeds
for a genetically modified
harvested and fed to us
by the guardians of virtue
we bit into the fruit
needing your sweet nectar
as an unfamiliar taste introduced itself
making a travesty of our cravings
failing to replace the authentic, forbidden taste of
I Do Not Miss You
I do not miss you
I miss your company
I do not miss your gnarled, overgrown feet
I miss how they used to walk in perfect synchronization with mine
Across Bleeker Street and St. Mark’s Place
In the shoes that I picked out
I do not miss your angular, branchlike legs
I miss the portable chair they served as
When there was bird poop on the park bench
Too many of our friends in your mother’s car
Cold rain on the Cape Cod sand
I do not miss your small, pouting stomach
I miss the food I filled it with those first two months
Chocolate pudding from our favorite bakery
Grilled cheese from the local café
Homemade Snickers bars from my very own oven
I do not miss your smoldering, concave chest
I miss having a home inside it
Where your heart was my neighbor
But now it seems we’ve both been evicted
I do not miss your pencil arms
I miss having them around my waist
A force field against the Jimi Hendrix records
Spinning our relationship
Twenty two minutes at a time
I do not miss your full, fast-moving lips
I miss having them express my opinions
Tell my stories
Order my dinner
I write poetry now that you’re gone
I do not miss your long, sharp nose
I miss the way the tip bounced as you spoke
I laughed about it
When you would mock my opinions
I do not miss your black-diamond studded ears
I miss the compliments I filled them with
That you did not deserve
I do not miss your swimming pool eyes
I miss how you let me splash around in the deep end
To keep me cool in our restless summers
I do not miss your shaggy, aromatic hair
I miss feeling it beat against my neck
Slicing through the sticky air of the Brooklyn music scene
To the stark snap of a garage-rock snare drum
I do not miss your oily skin
I miss the concern you showed for mine
Do you have sunblock on?
Is that a high enough SPF?
You are so pale.
I do not miss your mysterious, misguided mind
I miss the memories you corrupted
I do not miss you
I miss your company