Yesterday I had the delightful experience of attending the Poetry Cafe at Miller Middle School. Seventh-grade Language Arts teacher Kari Emerson has been holding the Poetry Cafe for the past 14 years; creating with her students a replica of a 1950s Beat-era cafe in her classroom. With posters, table cloths, fresh flowers, special lighting (including totally awesome lava lamps) and a stage, Room 2 is transformed. With student MCs, food servers and a band wearing black berets, the mood is authentic. Even the finger snapping to show appreciation for a poem is consistent with the hipster mood. (If you think you know what hipster means, think again…)
These kids all recited poems: some read their own work, others read Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Charles Mackay, Langston Hughes, Amy Lowell, William Blake. They read from folded pieces of paper, books, their iPhones and notes scribbled on their hands. A few parents read poems. Another teacher recited Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise.” I stood up to the “stage” and recited Christina Rossetti’s “A Birthday.” There were poems by Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein. After every reading, fingers snapped and the bongos rumbled. There was a wide range of work, from playful and silly to lyrics and ballads of real depth. A couple of lines resonated with me; Frost’s “I am the master of my soul” and Angelou’s quote “Try to be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.” Ms. Emerson closed with a moving tribute to Maya Angelou. And through it all we enjoyed cookies, tea, juice and a great vibe.
Ms. Emerson and her students are to be commended for taking poetry into their lives in such a lovely and rigorous way. I was proud to be among their number yesterday. Cupertino, you have no idea what is in your midst, these young poets and poet appreciators are a force to be reckoned with.