My Students Sing the Body Electric: Digital Spoken Word Poetry (Amy)

I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.  ~Walt Whitman

As every educator knows the month of May is long anticipated by both students and staff. Yet, for the past decade it has snuck up on me and seems to race by with breakneck speed. Once again I find myself wishing I had a few more weeks to catch up on grading, cover a few more lessons and find my balance amid so much stress. I found myself cursing technology this past week because it allows me to over-book myself. In order to keep my Michigan teaching certificate current I’m taking an on-line class on Young Adult Literature, trying to plan a long distance summer seminar on social justice education with National Writing Project colleagues, plan for a digital storytelling course that Heather and I are teaching at Northern Michigan University, post on and help moderate a couple of Facebook groups, and I am constantly trying to chase after my email correspondence.

Today I suffered a horrible case of the Mondays. I tried to push through it and smile and carry myself with grace so my students would not detect my foul mood. Though ultimately I think they saw right through me.  I had a couple of students say, “You look really tired…” Yes, I was exhausted. Though summer is right around the corner…one foot in front of the other…keep moving…deep breaths!

Third hour the classroom was silent as my creative writing students composed poetry from a prompt I gave them from Virgina Euwer Wolff’s novel, Make Lemonade. The book is front-and-center of my mind’s eye since I am reading it for my on-line class. I was intrigued by the opening sentences in chapter 4, “This word COLLEGE is in my house, and you have to walk around it in rooms like furniture” (9).  I read the chapter to my students and they answered with a flurry of pens to paper. After twenty minutes a few read their powerful responses. We still had about fifteen minutes left of the class and it was obvious that they were done sharing. I think my students had the “Mondays” too.

Amber raised her hand, “Mrs. Laitinen I have our poetry project to turn in to you.” She walked up to my desk with a flash-drive in hand.  My heartbeat quickened.  A digital project! 

We watched the video that Amber, Alex, Austin, and Marc created. I was rendered speechless.  It’s not a secret in our building that I am the teacher who cries often. In fact, I sometimes wonder if the students have some sort of conspiracy to see who can make me cry first? Perhaps they use my tears as a measuring stick, “So, did you make her cry?” 

Believe me, I try to be strong. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. I tell myself. Today I couldn’t help it. Large tears sprang up from deep inside of me. It was a melancholy day and soon Anika, Allie, Kendra, Ryan, Nikki, and Amber will be leaving our creative writing class in exchange for their high school diplomas. Graduation is an event  they can’t prepare you for in any education class. It’s bittersweet and every year it crashes over my head with an intensity that I will never be ready for.

“Mrs. Laitinen, are you crying?” I think it was Amber’s voice again. Amber who entered creative writing the goddess of prose. Amber who was not fond of poetry but now takes our breath away daily with her stunning poems.  Amber who will be a famous writer and has promised to adopt me (Yes, Amber…it’s official and is now in writing!)

I heard a smattering of giggles. There was no hiding.  “Yes, I always cry when I’m faced with such startling beauty.” I tried to cover the tears with a huge smile. Yet, my creative writing students possess the map of my heart.

It’s true. My students never cease to amaze me.  They teach me patience, hope, courage, love, and the power that language has to make our hearts and tear ducts quiver. Amber, Alex, Austin and Marc reminded me today that I love technology.  It helps connect and preserve our voices.  Long after my students walk away from Gwinn High School, diploma in hand, I will still be able to savor and share their work.  They leave behind a digital fingerprint. An echo of their brave steps. A marriage of language, image and sound. A body electric.

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7 Responses to My Students Sing the Body Electric: Digital Spoken Word Poetry (Amy)

  1. This is a lovely post, made lovelier by the poetry project.

    • hamy10 says:

      Thank you! I was stunned by their poetry project. It’s amazing what a group of creative kids can accomplish. I love how the digital universe allows our students to invent their own “genres” and inspire us all! 🙂 ~Amy

  2. bonnie K says:

    It’s way too early to be up but what a great reason to lift this lid in the darkness Amy. It’s a wonderful gift for you as their teacher and for us as teachers in the blogosphere.
    Kevin brought me here and I’m grateful.

    The piece is wonderful, and timely as I think about my own work with students and how we support their shift into the digital world.

    Bravo and thanks,

    • hamy10 says:

      Your kind words are very much appreciated. I am loving all the “blogosphere” connections too (I shared that term with my students and they really enjoyed it 🙂 Pondering our role as educators in the digital world is exciting and makes what we do so fresh and alive! Thank you again for your comment. Best wishes to you for an amazing end to the school year! ~Amy

  3. Ann Chappel says:

    Inspiring! Don’t dismay, Amy. This is what May is about. (<: You've touched another generation.

  4. Alex Pastor says:

    Mrs. Laitinen,
    I was watching Andrea Gibson videos (as usual) and I found this. It reminded me of you.

    • hamy10 says:

      Alex, thank you. What an amazing poem…I am touched by her beauty as I am touched by yours. Thank you so much for thinking of me. I hope you are having a magical summer. 🙂 ~Mrs. Laitinen

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