Power of Poetry

Byline: Jahla Seppanen
By Jahla Seppanen

Kids have learned to release their frustrations — brought on by the many challenges they face — staring aimlessly at the TV or playing video games.

"Imagination is on the endangered species list," said published poet and exhibiting painter John Brandi.

Passionate about the power of poetry and self-expression, he takes it upon himself to keep imagination intact. He visits schools as a poetry and creative-writing guide. He has worked throughout New Mexico, in schools like Academy for Technology and the Classics, Monte del Sol, Shiprock High School, Sidney Gutierrez Middle School and some Navajo Nation schools. His most recent work at Monte del Sol was sponsored by a grant from the Santa Fe Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry.

"Poetry is a healthy way to release inner turmoil, unravel confusion, get out what's tangled inside," Brandi said. Poetry can provide an inexpensive outlet for youth from the pressures they face. All a person needs is a pencil and paper. Poetry, Brandi said, is a "wonderful ritual of sitting down, (and) making space in the day."

Brandi studied art and anthropology at California State University, Northridge, and is closely associated with the Beat Generation that was centered in San Francisco— later dubbed the "beatniks"— a group of American writers who emerged in the 1950s. Some of their central beliefs were centered on rejecting mainstream conservative American values and experimenting with spirituality.

Brandi talks about how he and his writer peers were "exposed to both rhythms and unusual imagery of poetry by way of their parents reading (to them)." He said his parents reading to him as a kid influenced his creativity, too. Nowadays, TV and video games have replaced literary classics like Tom Sawyer, but Brandi hopes parents will expose their kids to the classics.

Santa Fe middle schools vary in their use of poetry and creative writing in the curriculum. Lisa Dilg, DeVargas Middle School's eighth-grade language arts teacher, said middle school and younger grade English courses are designed to "teach to standards," and poetry and creative writing don't make the cut. But there is still hope. When asked about poetry clubs, Dilg shrugged and replied, "No, none at DeVargas." Dilg said middle schoolers' agenda is socializing. "They see school as a big party," Dilg said. "(The kids are) very egocentric and into each other."

But despite that, Brandi said that they are ripe for the learning.

"Now it's especially vital that poets and writers go into the schools," he said. Especially if kids aren't getting any artistic exposure at home, it's the school's job to "balance out the electronics with encouraging young people to use their own imagination."

Brandi has worked with all ages, from middle school to college, along with "at-risk" students. "Poetry can rearrange one's life," Brandi said. Corey Mander, a senior at Monte del Sol, agrees with Brandi. "So many kids try and hide themselves from the world," Mander said. "Uniqueness should be celebrated and by allowing it to flow you grow through presenting yourself to the world."

Mander is a soldier in the fight for poetic takeover. On the front-line with him is Monte del Sol sophomore Gabe Rima. "The skill of being able to express yourself is priceless," Rima said. "It's how we find connection and break through isolation. Rima added that it's hard to stop someone from writing. "But it's always good to have institutionalized space open for expression."

Brandi said that teachers should introduce poetry, or some form of creative writing into their curriculum. "Even if students' poems don't hit the mark, they still have been provided with the opportunity to take fuller possession of their individual realities."

Jahla Seppanen is a junior at Monte del Sol.

Copyright 2009 The Santa Fe New Mexican
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.