Poetry in Chicago…

Apologise it’s been a little while since my last post, I’ve been busy being a full time traveling poet!…

I am fortunate to hold an unique and amazing position within a secondary school back in Nottingham, as the the spoken Word Educator. A position that was created by my involvement with the Mouthy Poets, a position that was cut from a pattern set in America by Peter Kahn who works in Oak Park River Forest.
A Spoken Word Educators remit, in short, involves teaching poetry within English lessons, facilitating after school spoken word activities and generally empowering young people via words. Peter created this role in 1999 after working as an English teacher and realizing that creative writing and poetry had the power to resonate with young young people in a way that no other subject could. In 2012 Peter came to England to develop a MA course with Goldsmiths university. This course embeds poets in various secondary schools in London where they teach poetry and also develops their own creative writing, a programe that Pete has also been successfully running at Concordia University in Chicago.
Peter invited me to shadow him for one week at Oak Park River Forest, an opportunity that I gladly accepted. I arrived on Monday and was instantly swallowed whole by the vastness and personality of the school- I have never experienced a school on this scale. Peter is currently working along side the English department delivering sessions on the masterpiece ‘Macnolia’ written by A Van Jordon, a book I had previously no knowledge of but now each page has me enthralled.
I must admit that I am confused by American system of classes. If I am correct High school begins at age 14 and this year is named ‘Freshman’, proceeded by ‘Sophomore’ (aged 15-16), followed by ‘Junior’ (16-17) and the final year are called ‘Seniors’ (17-18). The first two lesson i shadowed were “Sophomore’ classes, the student were lively, thoroughly engaged and spiced with a little cheek and personality, as you would hope 16 year olds would be. I listened and observed as Peter introduced various poetic devises and soon became totally integrated into the class, sitting with the students at their tables, reading sections of the book to the whole class and truly enjoying myself. Tuesday was my day off to explore Chicago but I must admit I missed the energy of the school and young people and it seems the feeling was mutual; Peter told me that I had to come back because the students were asking for the “English Poetry lady’. So I returned to school on Wednesday.

Wednesday evening I sat in on Peter’s Concordia University Spoken Word Educator class and met other poets who are currently working in various high schools across Chicago. The class consisted of 9 poets who take it in turns each week to ‘test out’ session plans, write, examine poems, share experiences and generally support each other. It felt more like a group of friends meeting up rather than a university course.

This was an extremely busy week for the Spoken Word Department and the young poets, at Oak Park River Forest, as they were gearing up for the Winter Showcase. They have a show case each term, where students who have been attending the after school spoken word club invite family, friends and poetry lovers to watch their carefully crafted group performances. This is a big deal. OPRF has the largest and longest running After School Spoken Word Club in America. There are about 60 students who meet after school to write, share, edit, choreograph poems and performances. Every day after school the students would meet to refine their performances and I would go around to give my humble feedback.
Thursday 13th Feb was the Winter Showcase and I was the special guest poet. I sat through the Showcase in awe of these young people, baring their soul, sharing their dreams, fears and disasters so freely- they were truly amazing and it just reiterates the power of poetry. It was an honor to share the stage with such young brave people.


Dave Stieber is one of the poets on Peter’s Spoken Word Educator course at Concordia, he has also been working at Englewood High School facilitating the After School Spoken Word Programme, and invited me to meet his students on Friday. Englewood is on the opposite side of the city to OPRF, located in an African American area which is currently threatened by the Mayor to be bulldozed to make way for ‘new developments, a topic explored in one of Team Englewoods group poem. This spoken word group is much smaller in size than OPRF but equally powerful I and a delight to experience.
In the evening I met up with film maker, make up artist and actress NK Gutierrez, who had seen me perform at the OPRF winter showcase on the Thursday. We drank tea’s, ate desserts and discussed our experiences as black female film makers (plus other things which i shall not divulge!). I think I have made a lifetime friend.


I met up with my Servas host, who invited me to a ‘bike swap’ event, intrigued i went along, but the event was basically as described, bike fanatics meet up to discuss bikes and swap bike related items. I was however pleased to see that some of the balaclava that i made at the balaclava making party on the previous Sunday were being given away as a welcome present! I felt as though I have left a mark on Chicago, their will be cyclist battling through the harsh winter wearing my balaclava- my work is done!

NK was filming a promo for a musical artist in the morning and I thought it would be great to tag along- so I did. Not only did I tag along but also ended up being the 2nd camera operator!

NK Gutierrez, film maker, actress, make up artist
On Monday I experience a new type of weather…Thunder snow. It snowed so heavily that I couldn’t see to the end of the street plus there was dramatic thunder which was quiet unnerving. I over heard a woman say that 60 inches of snow had fallen in Chicago. I had planned to fly to Washington, the only problem being was that I didn’t confirm my flight so didn’t actually have a seat booked. Ironically my flight was one of few that were actually leaving Chicago.


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