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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Local poet and activist leads poetry workshops for DC SCORES poet-athletes

Written by Joe Brophy
Elementary School Program Coordinator

Every fall, each DC SCORES elementary school is visited by a local professional poet, who works with the students on performing their poetry in preparation for the Poetry Slam.

This year, DC SCORES was excited to have Jonathan B. Tucker not only lead workshops in four schools, perform on the first night of the Poetry Slam! and judge on the second night, but also connect us to numerous professional poets who led workshops in other DC SCORES elementary schools.

Tucker is a local poet and activist well known for his work with the DC Youth Slam Team, Split This Rock Poetry Festival and Teaching for Change, and can often be seen hosting open mic competitions and poetry slams at Busboys and Poets and The Fridge as well as other District-area community art spaces.

We recently got a chance to chat with Tucker about his experience with DC SCORES, his work in the community and how he got started as a poet.

What made you interested in working for DC SCORES?

I love teaching poetry and helping young people express themselves using creative writing and performance.

Over this past fall you led workshops for DC SCORES poet-athletes at four different elementary schools. What was the most memorable experience?

Signing autographs for students who thought I was famous. Helping students with their homework prior to the poetry workshop. Watching the quietest, shyest student in the class eager to get up and perform her poem in front of the whole group reassured me that what I do is valuable in so many ways.

Laughing with students at every school when we wrote funny things. Being embarrassed to take off my hat and show students my hair at one school, and then doing it anyway because they asked. Seeing the growth in one poet’s writing or performance in just one day’s work. Seeing the students I worked with up on stage at the Slam!. Seeing students I worked with celebrating as they won the slam!.

How old were you when you first started writing poetry? Was there any particular teacher, poet or event that inspired you when you were beginning?

At about 13 or 14 I started writing for myself. Prior to that I wrote poems only when assigned to in school. The inspiration that got me started writing poetry was a very pretty girl in my school. I had known her almost all my life and didn’t know how to address my changing feelings for her, so I wrote about it. These were secret poems that only my best friend saw. Women still inspire me, but I write about many more things now.

Do you have any advice for young poets who might be interested in using poetry as a method for social change?

Read more than you write. Write more than you speak. Speak more than you perform. Perform often. Never stop reading and studying the issues you care about. Just because you reach an epiphany once or think that you know exactly how you feel about a subject, that does not mean that your thoughts and opinions won’t and shouldn’t change over time.

Everything is always changing. It is not enough to decry sexism and racism and call it a day. You need to specify. Name these things as you see them in your world and yourself. Change starts from within. Beginning poets are quick to preach their beliefs to others. Avoid this temptation. Instead tell stories that point to undeniable truths. Let the audience think for themselves. Be bold. Be brave. And go to where the problems are. If you are not taking risks with your poetry and your activism, then you will not make the great changes you desire.

Be risky. Be smart. Join an organization. Listen to other poets (and other public speakers) and take notes on what techniques work best at getting to your heart. How do they make you feel? Care? Act? Finally, stand by your words. Be honest and true to yourself.

Was there any experience growing up that led you to want to coach youth poetry or to run poetry workshops for organizations like DC SCORES?

Yes. I participated in a nonprofit organization’s high school program when I was a teenager and it changed my outlook on the world. I became a different (and better) person thanks to this program and the caring people who challenged me to think differently. It was not a poetry program at all. It was a cross-cultural dialogue and leadership development program.

But I learned that there are people who still devote their lives to bettering the world. I learned that there are ways of living that are less destructive and competitive. I learned that I could have a great impact on others (like students I work with) by sharing my words, my thoughts and my time. I want to help young people come to these realizations like I did as a teenager.

How would you describe your first DC SCORES Poetry Slam!?

It was loud! The DJ was cranking hits and the kids were dancing in the aisles. It was a real good time. There were professional soccer players there and other great poets sitting beside me. I was very happy when one of the schools I worked with won too.

If you could say any one thing to the current DC SCORES poet-athletes, what would it be?

Do not let anyone else pen your future, past or present. You must write your life into being. Words create worlds. If you want to change your world, start by using your words to add meaning, delete stress, highlight opportunities, and reformat your whole life. You have this power. It does not come from a teacher or degree. It does not come from radio or TV.

The power to mold worlds with your creative visions comes from within. It is in your faith in yourself and your belief in the word. Spoken or written (or tweeted), we are nothing if we are not trusted and respected for our words. Use this power. Use your power. Use your power responsibly.

And also, come compete in the DC Youth Poetry Slam when you become a teenager!

Learn more about Jonathan Tucker's work at www.jonathanbtucker.com.

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