Linda Cowgill Emerick
The time was right before lunch; the place was a seventh grade English language arts class. Those present in the classroom included a bunch of 13 and 14 year-olds, a "regular education" teacher, a "special education" teacher, and a national champion slam poet, Gayle Danley. The students had been prepared for this workshop with three lessons beforehand. We read some of Ms. Danley's poems and listened to her perform some of them on audiotape. We heard excerpts from an NPR program, "Fresh Air" as Terry Gross asked about her writing process. We had written poetry ourselves and even performed it aloud for one another. But none of us had yet composed nor performed "slam" poetry.
And one of us - I will call him James - had yet to write even one word... about anything...in poetry or prose... despite his teachers' best efforts to encourage him to do so. However, he was clearly enraptured by Gayle's words, her performance style, her "recipe" for crafting "slam poetry." When it was time for the students to select an incident from their own lives and begin to create their own poems, James picked up his pencil and wrote. Page after page became filled with his words. The bell rang for lunch. He asked us if he could stay in the classroom and keep writing.
We later learned that James' mother was to be released from jail later that day and it turned out that he had a lot of love he wanted to pour over her. So he just wrote it all out. Gayle had given him "the recipe." When an event in someone's life, an artist teaching the nuts and bolts of her craft, and an artform converge in time and space, life-altering learning occurs. This is the power of the arts.