Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Quietly listening to African American poetry at Venice Elementary
"What are they doing?" one of the teachers at Venice Elementary School asked her colleague yesterday afternoon. She had arrived just a little after we got the listening session for the audio exhibit started, and she was confused about why a typically lively and sometimes loud bunch of students were so quiet. We were in the gymnasium after all; thus, there was no good reason for the students to be moving around as silently as they were.
"Oh, they're listening," responded one of the other teachers, who had invited me to the school. "He," she said, tilting her head in my direction, "has them listening to poetry."
That was it. The uncommon quietness we were witnessing was a group of a dozen young people listening to poetry on audio devices.
Several years ago, I was a fellow at the Institute for Urban Research at my university. When I was informed that I had a small, one-time stipend to spend on supplies, I knew exactly what to request: audio listening devices.
I had previously coordinated a trip to a museum with students, and I was fascinated with how useful they found the guided audio tours. "Why not create something like that, but with poetry, African American poetry?" I thought at the time. I began pricing audio listening devices, and when an opportunity arose, I moved on it.
That was back in about 2010, which is to say, that was a hundred or so audio exhibits and a few thousand attendees ago. At Venice Elementary School on Monday, I was extending the practice and giving young folks an opportunity to listen to audio recordings of poets reading their works. The experience of taking in the poems through headphones prompts them to display levels of attentiveness and quietness that perplexes their teachers.
• Mixed Media Poetry Exhibits