Monday 5 May 2014

Don't Be Afraid to Try: Ogres and Poetry

By Eric Hanna, S.J.

We've all had that moment of fear when asked to do something creative.  Fear tells us that if we risk expressing something we are not quite sure of, others will tear it down simply because they don't understand.  This pattern leads us to avoid trying new things.  It is a pattern that students at Regina's Mother Theresa Middle School are trying to break.

When I first started helping out with an after-school program of creative writing and poetry, some students were quite eager to try expressing themselves.  But there were always a few who froze.  They wrote nothing at all, or non-committal phrases about safe topics: movies they'd seen, videogames, etc.

It's a cagey move.  Failure hurts; and if we don't try it is impossible to fail.  However, these children taught me that if you hide your light under a basket, you're denying the world a glimpse of something truly amazing.

Gradually, week by week, I saw young people timidly try to open up, to simply say what their experience was like.  And the poetry was amazing.  Because meter and rhyme scheme are not nearly as important as expressing something true about our shared human experience.

One of the children tried to play it safe by referencing the movie, "Shrek" and talking about ogres... a silly topic that didn't require him to share his experience.  And yet one of the best things about that movie was the message of being yourself.

I was inspired to write my own poem. sharing about my experience of what the after-school program had meant to me and what I was seeing.  All through these weeks, I had been seeing the students draw out unique, marvelous perspectives about growing up, about family, about feelings, about life and death.  The more they tried, the better they were able to cut through their fear and use simple words to send a deep message.

I dedicate this following poem of mine to all the un-sung poems that the Mother Theresa School students have worked so hard to create.  They have truly been an inspiration.

Everyone Says That Ogres are Dumb 
Everyone says ogres are dumb
 They don't talk good
 They don't walk good
 They don't smell good
They said I couldn't do it... but I think I prob'ly could
My teeth don't look good, sitting all crooked
 like too many dishes in one sink
My clothes are all dumpy, skin wrinkled and lumpy
 especially when I stop to think
My eyes squint and don't see well; and everyone can tell
 because I always stumble and blink 
So they said that I couldn't write a poem
Sometimes I believed 'em, but now I'll show 'em
Even if words are often quite strong
Sometimes what everyone says is wrong 
Everyone says that ogres are dumb
 But when I talk, I speak the truth
 And when I walk, I go places
 And when I smell, I smell the soil of the land
Everyone said I couldn't do it... but now I know that I can.

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