Bell Poetry Club

Potomac River ice

Friday, I helped out with an 826DC workshop at Bell Multicultural High School in Columbia Heights. Bell's Poetry Club meets after school each Friday, and we came by to work with them on metaphor. To fuel the discussion, we read "Snow Leopards at the Denver Zoo" by William Matthews (who I'd never heard of before—I'm so not a poet):

There are only a hundred or so
snow leopards alive, and three
of them here. Hours I watch them jump
down and jump up, water being
poured. Though if you fill a glass
fast with water, it rings high to the top,
noise of a nail driven true. Snow
leopards land without sound,
as if they were already extinct.

If I could, I’d sift them
from hand to hand, like a fire,
like a debt I can count but can’t pay.
I’m glad I can’t. If I tried to
take loss for a wife, and I do,
and keep her all the days of my life,
I’d have nothing to leave my children.
I save them whatever I can keep
and I pour it from hand to hand.

A few metaphors there, huh? It's a swift poem, turning from accessible to knotty in the space of a few lines. Great for discussion, and the students were more than up to the task. The writing exercise we did next further showed off their chops. We all took 20 minutes to write a poem full of metaphors, then shared them with the group. Their stuff leapt off the page, lyrical, narrative, associative, wild and subtle and everything between.

All of us from 826DC were seriously impressed, and I look forward to hanging out with the Bell Poetry Club again in a couple weeks. It's on us to come up with something new to challenge these talents—my prediction is we're going to learn just as much as they do.