Tribune News Network
To have a poetry café or not to have a poetry café? That was the question that preoccupied Jabari Miller, an English teacher at GEMS American Academy Qatar (GAAQ). After much deliberation, the decision was made to move ahead, and Miller challenged his high school scholars to pen original poems, on their own or in collaboration with their peers, with the aim of sharing perspectives on myriad topics with fellow classmates while at the same time helping students overcome their fear of public-speaking.
The purpose of the challenge was to create a space that would amplify the range of participating poets and engage students with thoughts and sounds beyond the usual routine of the average school day. Every poem written would essentially be an extension of an idea, purpose or stance held by a student that they wanted to share. Moreover, the Poetry Café would give students the opportunity to explore a treasure trove of poems new and old, build their public speaking skills and develop affirmation of self.
On the surface, the premise of this poetry ‘slam’ event sounded enticing. Yet there was more work ahead for Miller to demonstrate the value and benefits of the initiative.
Some students were initially hesitant and quiet, but they began to believe in the concept as they progressed within the poetry unit. By analyzing and researching different poets and their respective techniques, sounds and messages, the students began to reflect on their own truths and began to warm to the idea of reciting original poetry on stage.
Groups of young poets and individual poets leveraged the free expression space that poetry provides to share a diverse palette of topics ranging from past and current traumas, neglect and war in their home countries, to injustice, anxiety, love, nature, social media pressures, loss and even poetry itself.
“For some students, the challenge was therapeutic, while for others, it was the impact of having someone listen that convinced them to address thought-provoking topics through group and individual pieces,” explained Miller.
While students were initially unsure when faced with the vulnerability that comes with developing original poetry, they became increasingly encouraged and empowered to inspire through speaking truth – their truth – and sharing things that mattered to them. The art of poetry and the performative aspect of a poetry slam helped the young poets take a deep breath of courage, building their confidence in their public speaking ability and thereby helping them to develop what is a crucial skill needed in the real world.
“I’ve never performed a poem of my own before but doing so at the event ensured that what I wrote struck a chord with the audience and, perhaps, contributed to the overall harmony,” reflected Grade-12 student Alaa Gafaar.
Overall, the lasting impact of the school’s Poetry Café is that students are continuing to write and share.Distinguished honours student Rohit Lal has been writing original poetry and life reflections in his journal since the start of his poetry unit. He was inspired byMiller’s lessons and the ideas presented by different class performances.
“I will continue to write every day because I am enjoying the process,” said Lal. “It makes me feel alive.” His Poetry Café performance was the cherry atop his pursuit of creative expression.