Towards an Unruly Imagination – Introducing Puddle Poetry in Schools

By Venta Rutkauskas –

An arts education pathway ready to roll out in local classrooms this fall affirms the art and craft of poetry. Puddle Poetry in the Schools was developed by poets Sonya Littlejohn, Dana I.D. Matthews, and myself, and is a Community Arts Council of Williams Lake project supported by the City of Williams Lake and the Cariboo Regional District via the Central Cariboo Arts and Culture Society. The pilot project sees the artist educators spend three or four sessions with each class, guiding participants to write and perform their own poetic works.

Sonya Littlejohn and Dana I.D. Matthews bring persuasive talent and discerning experience to their roles as educators. Puddle Poetry in the Schools pilot project begins this fall. Photo: Venta Rutkauskas

Ahh, poetry, that shunned literary form, discarded after our early love affair with nursery rhyme, detested after the churning-stomach high school module and terrifying mandatory recitation. In the wrong hands, even exquisite works of art can be distorted. Poetry lives, though, and will as long as words and humans do. It’s an ancient language of rhythm and beat; it is song and verse and bows to the heart of beauty. Beauty, underneath it all… It’s what I’m fighting for when pen hits the page, when my mind, body, and soul merge to lure out the symbol like a snake charmed from its basket.

Committed to sharing their craft with students, Sonya and Dana have worked with Vancouver Poetry House’s educational branch, WordPlay, for years. When asked about her relationship to writing and teaching poetry, Sonya, herself a powerful word-smith, wrote:

Poetry allows the reader
and the writer in their craft
to explore the depth of
everyday experiences and emotions—
expand upon their meaning…
discover what lessons and ideas
have shaped their lives.

The poetic process is filled with teachable moments that relate to every aspect of our lives. To some, like Plato for example, the process breeds irrationality, the work untrustworthy. Poetry and poets would be expelled from a Republic of logical idealism, too fuelled by emotion and orally expressive. Poets’ imitation and reliance on metaphor eject them from the virtuous circles. In reality, shackled writers sit trapped in prisons around the globe, silenced by the powers that be. The silence is like a squall, though, rattling the cages of our existence, howling that writers are dangerous—especially poets.

Plato likely missed the healing grace that radiates from the poetic process. Both the writer and the reader can discover what psychologist and philosopher Eugene Gendlin coined ‘the felt sense’, a somatic experience that aligns imagery and language with the body’s awareness. Practitioners of Gendlin’s Focusing technique explain (via the focusing.org website) that this method of tuning into and ‘naming’ the felt sense in the body offers “confirmatory knowing” and “draws pre-verbal knowledge into conscious awareness”.

Poetry does this for me, both the reading and especially the writing. If I could show you the palpable click I sense when the chosen word emerges from the ethers of imagination, it would express a river of sunlight piercing the clouds. Resonating with another person’s metaphor is the same, breath and body quicken, a depth of knowing flies home to roost.

Though some naturally favour poetry, I daresay there is value in teaching it to everyone. In recent writing classes I attended with Canadian poet George Elliott Clarke (see georgeelliottclarke.net), the importance of exposing truth, beliefs, and our understanding of the world through our writing undulated through every lecture and assigned exercise. I will leave you with his words to me, as a spark-to-light manifesto for our work as Puddle Poetry in the Schools:

Poetry matters because it’s both the simplest and cheapest art: All you need is a mind that can work with language plus the “apps” of lungs, lips, tongue, teeth, guts, vocal cords, pulse/rhythm/heartbeat, breath, and then the extras of pen, paper, and/or electronic keyboard. So, poetry is the most accessible art; you can be penniless and still howl a poem or two.

But poetry is also the most profound art because it’s interested in the emotional side of words–not just the dictionary meaning, but the emotional resonance. In a good poem, “love” is no ordinary word, but stones bursting into flower or hair that melts into honey or molasses.

And poetry is especially important for youth because youth want/need dreams to be real, to become flesh, and that’s the mission of poetry: To articulate the living beauty possible in every thing, the utopia that lurks – hidden – in every nation, every culture, every household, every room, that only poets can discover and describe. Poetry makes IT beautiful – whatever IT is because Poetry is Freedom – undiluted.

Venta Rutkauskas is the co-ordinator for the Community Arts Council of Williams Lake (CACWL). She is an advocate and lover of the arts and has taught drama and written plays for young children. She is also passionate about the healing arts. Visit www.williamslakecommunityartscouncil.com to learn more about CACWL and local artists.

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