As a teaching artist, I think I work best with unlikely poets. Maybe because so often I was an unlikely poet, too. Like when my birthmother baked me a birthday cake and it wasn’t my birthday. Or when I was lonely and Asian and too drunk to be young. Or before uber and I laid expired and awake in Danny’s bed until morning or when I birthed a sun and his father flew away or anytime I blacked out because someone said they loved me. Poetry doesn’t leave you or miss your birthday or kiss the wrong people. It was always elegant, too elegant for someone like me.
This week I returned to the classroom at the local youth treatment center, which they call Lighthouse now, which feels right. It’s an honor that people invite me places, and certainly to be invited back multiple years. I don’t have an MFA or a book or even an organizational system - classy things some of my favorite poets have. Tbh I’ve only taken one formal writing class in my entire life (intro to creative writing with John colburn, my last year of college) so all of this is made up, really. But what I Can do is take good care of their stories; I know this because I had to learn to take good care of mine.
I asked if we could add hardcover moleskine notebooks for each student to the budget this year. You know, real writer shit. I handed them out myself, one at a time, like some sort of paper sword placed into the hands of rightful poets who didn’t know they were poets until they pulled their notebook out of a stone. Lol. You and I know a notebook doesn’t make a poet. But I think permission makes a poet, or at least it goes a long way, and sometimes a new notebook feels like a new day.
“Why are there DOTS on the pages?" one teen asked. She spoke from her elbow, as unlikely poets learn to do.
"Ah. Some people like lines and some people don’t like lines," I said, "so dots can give you structure if you want structure, or you can just ignore them. You’re the poet, so you get to decide what works for you. Yeah?”
She smiled. Her smile is a boat. "Okay," she replied.
"It’s good to ask questions," I said.
We turned to the first page, which asks: "In case of loss, please return to: ______________”
Our names are the first poems we write. Some poems are so unlikely, they never get to decide what works for them. But even names as worn as ours deserve belonging. I think a lighthouse is a great place for poetry because a poet knows that any beloved thing can be lost - a notebook, a day, a father a birthday a boat
And still we return, return, return to ourselves