July 05, 2006
Scenic Carbondale, Home of the Soybean
This last week was a bit of a blur, as it included a whirlwind trip (30 hours, 6 hours driving, 6 hours flying) to Carbondale, IL, where I picked up my sister from the Young Writers Workshop. Christina attended on the first annual Younkin-Rivera Scholarship--and with her long hair in braids, her flowing skirt, her dimples and her slightly sexy/slightly moody poetry, she is definitely a Beasley girl. It was funny (and a bit creepy) to sit near the back, and listen as the boys in front of me whispered "She's REALLY good" (with an implied "REALLY hot" in there somewhere). Ah, youth. Lock 'em up while you can. Miraculously enough, I don't think the late-night hijinks got much worse than marathon games of UNO.
Allison Joseph (of CRWROPPS and Crab Orchard fame) has put together a wonderful program that brings together 28 poets and fiction writers, aged 15-18, for a week of writing workshops, teaching sessions, and open mics. For some, my sister included, this was a first chance to be away from home, living in a dorm with a group of dynamic and talented teens. In particular there was a standout group from Oak Park High School, just outside Chicago, who had clearly had a lot of practice on the slam scene. Oak Park has a history of poetry, actually--Charles Simic was a longtime resident. I give credit to Allison for fostering such a supportive atmosphere, which was palpable the moment I walked in for the awards ceremony and reading. You can't help but bond with a teacher who swears freely and will show you how to make jewelry from wire and crystals in her spare time. And who gets up and stomps a rather noticeable cockroach making its appearance onstage, right in the middle of one girl's reading.
A random aside--a few prominent contemporary poets, such as Denise Duhamel and Nick Carbo and Joy Katz, appeared in the program as sponsors of scholarships. The young writers may not have known who these people were, but I did, and I was amazed and grateful that that they had reached out with their support. We all know, the wallets of poets are not padded. But if you happen to have a hundred dollars to spare in theis year's budget (tax refunds? skip a week of eating out?), consider contacting Allison and making a donation. I can tell you firsthand, you'd really be making a difference in these kids' lives. Christina is already talking about next year.