In our January/February classes at ORIS our students are Somali-Bantu but were all born in Dadaab in Kenya, a UNHCR refugee camp and the largest one in the world. One of the girls just arrived a few months ago and was reunited with her mother after ten years.
This time we took a different approach to poetry. We took the cut up method of writing very literally. Some friends of mine had donated a big pile of Poetry magazines and I gave the kids some scissors, glue sticks and paper and told them to follow their instincts and inspiration. They read through the magazines cutting out lines and verse that they liked to make new poems out of them.
They were exposed to a lot of different writing at once but this also freed them up from linear thinking as they pasted together new poems all their own. I’ve always thought that writing is part inspiration and part thievery.
I can’t say enough about how important it is to break away from our habitual ways of thinking and looking at life. Poetry introduces new and wild ways of seeing that have the power to create connections in our mind between ideas that were previously miles apart. Poetry can create worm holes in the fabric of thought that send us to places we never could have imagined otherwise.
For these kids and their process of integration into a new culture, becoming aware of new modes of thought through poetry can overturn fears and bring new insight that is invaluable to cultivating their sense of self and place. When we read we are listening, not just to the writer but to our own thoughts as well. Our own voice gets louder and more and more we understand the value of sharing who we are with the world. Which is why it’s so fun to read at the mic!