Photo by Rebecca Gould Photography

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Susan's Poetry Slam: "My Kryptonite"

A few weeks ago, Susan reluctantly told me that her school had a mandatory-for-all-eighth-graders poetry slam -- after school hours.  I could tell that she really wasn't all that excited about it, and initially, I sort of groaned inside, too.  With three busy children, things like this are always a bit of a scheduling challenge...and it meant she would have to miss soccer practice.  And while soccer might not be her biggest passion, some of her dearest friends are teammates...

But then, as we were talking about the poetry slam, I remembered something.  

I remembered that last year, a boy in our community did something pretty incredible at the poetry slam.  

I remembered that, with the support of his classmates, he shared what it was like to realize that he was homosexual.  I remembered watching the YouTube video of his poetry slam and marveling both at his bravery and honesty and at the heartfelt support his classmates, his peers, his audience, offered him.

I remembered thinking -- a year ago -- that I wanted to attend Susan's mandatory eighth grade poetry slam.  

Susan shared the details -- ALL students were required to work with a visiting poet/teacher to develop a meaningful poetry slam during an intensive three-week poetry unit.  ALL students were required to read (well, ideally, perform) their poem either in their own English classroom or at the mandatory open mic night.  Susan had already decided -- she was writing about the clinical trial, but she would NOT be performing her poem at the open mic night.

I was silent, thinking she might well have a pretty incredible poem.  I gently poked at the edge of the idea of reconsidering, but she was adamant that she would NOT read (well, ideally perform) her poem at the open mic night.

She worked on her poem.
I held my tongue.

She worked on her poem more, and came to me -- wanting some help with a statistic.
I held my tongue, for I knew if I pushed her, she might well acquiesce and do it for all the wrong reasons.  I did NOT want that.

As the weeks passed, I started noticing that Susan was talking about the poetry project, about her friends' poems -- about which friends she had invited to read her poem...and I could tell, she was starting to get excited about her poem. 

Then, on Monday night, Susan asked me to read it with her.  
I was blown away -- it was incredible.
I remembered her 11-year old self as I gazed at the strong, steady and quietly confident teenager she has become.

I made a few suggestions about the order of her stanzas and suggested she add a few details that those who hadn't lived through the experience with her might find helpful...

And then I couldn't help myself.
I looked at her and said steadily, "You need to read this."  
  (and I knew she knew I meant at the open mic night...)

I wasn't going to push her, but I wanted her to know -- her enrollment in PRROTECT spanned much of her middle-school experience.  She missed more school than most, and I was pretty sure that many of her classmates had no idea what her life had been like -- and why she put herself through what she did.

I wanted Susan to read her poem for herself, for her classmates, and for everyone living with food allergies.

She looked back and me and said "I am going to read it.  I need to read it."

We smiled at each other -- and I knew Susan would read it, not perform it, for that's not her style.  But I also knew that Susan's story would be impactful...

She isn't a big, loud, commanding presence on the stage, but with the same quiet certainty she approached every challenge of the clinical trial, she shared her poem with her classmates.  At first, there was some noise, but as she went on, the room grew still, silent -- every one of those students listening to her talk about her experience.  And then, when she grew overwhelmed, teary, they snapped -- what they have been taught to do to offer those who are performing and in need of support.

I left the event proud of Susan, but prouder of the community she is fortunate enough to call her middle school.  Class of 2016 Huskies, you rocked it last night!


  1. Wow. She is brave and you should be so proud. As a fellow OIT family, we are so happy for you!

  2. It was an amazing event with some students opening their hearts while others tickled our funny bones. Even students who have difficulty being seated for 40 minutes sat mesmerized for two hours as they realized the power of words to communicate and move people. It helped us all to realize that these kids have a lot to say!