#BTWMagnet’s Annual Poetry Reading (#ihatepoetry)

Tomorrow night, the Booker T. Washington Creative Writing magnet will hold their Poetry Reading in The Cellar, the black box theater space at the school. This reading will include students in the ninth through twelfth grades.

Maytreecia Harriell, who is a senior, is excited about the reading. “Even though I hate poetry, I have been in the poetry reading all three years,” she told me. “I love all the attention on me!”  That sentiment was echoed by Chamberlyn Gravatt, a junior who is reading for the third year. Though she also hates poetry, she likes showcasing her work because it is hers.

Lillie Marie Johnson and Alexandria Hale fall on the other end of the spectrum. “I love poetry,” says Alex, and Lillie agreed, but added, “I’m also excited [because] it allows me to perform.”

Pate Snell, a junior who is new to the magnet, voiced that he was nervous because “poetry is not [his] strong suit” but he “wants to be a part of it.”

This nervous excitement is not only held in the upperclassmen. Sophomore Trenae Campell says she’s excited to use what she learned last year in her first poetry reading to improve her performance. “I am . . . excited to see how the ninth graders are going to do this year . . . I’m just excited!”

Christin Watson, a freshman, said,”I’m, like, nervous but I’m also excited at the same time, considering the fact that it’s my first poetry reading. So I’m kinda, like, ready, and then I’m not.” She said that she feels a bit of pressure about being the second reader but she also knows like “everyone is going to do a good job.”

I also talked with Ms. Zestlan Simmons, an English teacher at BTW Magnet who had previously been a creative writing student herself, and she reflected on her first poetry reading. “My teacher had to pull me from the back because I was so nervous,” then added “Here is something about reading, sharing your soul basically, with a group of people you don’t know. Poetry is very exposing. If you’re not an extrovert…is quite emotionally draining. Then there’s this moment when your concerned about the response.”

When asked if she thinks reading poetry is a good idea for high school students, she responded, “It is. They need to express, they need to speak, even if it’s wrong. There has to be an outlet.”

This year’s reading is Mr. Dickson’s fifteenth as the magnet’s instructor, and he is happy with its growth in the last two years. Typically, twelve to fifteen students would read, but last year there were twenty-four performers and this year twenty. Dickson told me that the reward is having the audience for the students. He said that, not only is it the most appropriate venue for a performance by the magnet, it also a food drive. The admission price is and always has been nonperishable food items and monetary donations for the Montgomery Area Food Bank.

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Do Millennials Hate Poetry?

It’s widely said that poetry is boring and in ways outdated, which leads many people to assume that it’s the younger crowd who have lost interest in poetry and have chosen to disregard it.  I conducted four interviews, two with millennials and two with adults over the age of forty-five, and asked each person the same three simple questions.

To begin my brief journey to discover whether people really hate poetry, I interviewed a Booker T Washington Magnet High School senior whose magnet is the Center of Advanced Technology, CAT for short. I began by asking her, “How do you feel about poetry, and why?”

“Uuuuhhh, it’s not my favorite,” she said. “I’ve never been good at it. It’s just one of those things that you just kind of force me to look at.”

Despite not being too fond of poetry, she had trouble answering my second question: “What poem do you remember hating the most, and why?” She struggled for about ten minutes to think of any poem she could say she really disliked before I had us move on to my last question: “What poem do you remember loving the most?”

“I like Robert Frost poems,” she replied, then asked, “What’s the one about ‘and miles to go before I sleep?””

Next, I interviewed an Alabama State University sophomore who is majoring in Biomedical Engineering, asking him the same first question: “How do you feel about poetry and why?”

“I love poetry. I feel like it allows multiple diverse ways to express one’s self.”

“What poem do you remember hating the most and why?”

“I’ve never hated a piece of poetry, I believe.”

“What poem do you remember loving the most?”

“I love anything and everything by Maya Angelou.”

Third, I asked a former university math professor who currently works as a podiatry secretary, “How do you feel about poetry, and why?”

“It’s okay,” she replied.

“What poem do you remember hating the most, and why?”

“Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve read a poem? . . . I like poems about nature.” She said she, however, doesn’t favor “love poems or odes.”

“What poem do you remember loving the most?”

“I like Elizabethan poetry.”

Finally, I asked an English teacher, who is the Dean of Maxwell’s International Officer’s School: “How do you feel about poetry and why?”

“I like poetry.” She continued by saying, “I like that it’s a different way to express yourself,” rather than using standard forms and words. “Poetry can be big, it can be small . . .”

“What poem do you remember hating the most, and why?”

“I didn’t really like Shakespeare.” She also said she remembered having to read Ezra Pound but couldn’t enjoy reading his poetry, because she found him difficult. She doesn’t favor poems that she has to decipher.

“What poem do you remember loving the most?”

“i know it sounds weird [because most of her poems were about death], but I loved Emily Dickinson poems.” She loves the way Dickinson wrote more than what she wrote about.

The belief that poetry’s appeal is associated with and differs due to age differences seems completely false. I included the interviewees’ professions and interests to show that a person’s feelings about poetry are dependent on the person’s interests. The first three were all in career fields that don’t require them to read poetry. Any reading they wanted to do independently was up to them, and the college student seemed more passionate about poetry than the secretary. The college student and English teacher loved poetry and were eager to talk about it than the high school student and secretary who saw it as more of a task or only wanted to read specific poetry. Poetry is an art that may not be for everyone, but it is wrong to assume that it is only enjoyed by a people of a certain age range.