Yesterday, I finished the last poetry workshop of my short poet-in-residence for the Arlington Public School program. I enjoyed each school in a different way. There was a funky charter school. The students didn’t have school bells. They called their teachers by their first name. They were pretty hip and very energetic. Sadly most of them giggled through my workshop.
There was something different about the workshop I taught yeaterday, though. It was a “special” high school. All of my students were teenage mothers or soon-to-be teenage mothers. I felt uneasy because I was a guy going into “their” space. Add to that, I was twenty years old when I became a father and I started to wonder what would have happened if I weren’t allowed to go to school (even though I was in college then) with everybody else. What would happen if I was segregated with all of the other soon-to-be fathers. What might that have done to my self esteem? Add to that, my being male gave me a certain privilege: No one had to know that I was expecting a child with my partner unless I told them. Women, however, don’t have this liberty.
The young women were all bright-eyed, curious, smart, and funny. They wrote missives after Lucille Clifton celebrating all sorts of things, especially the ten fingers and toes of their new borns. More so than the rest of the schools, I visited, there was a need to be heard with these young women. There were questions about my age, what I did for a living. How did I get a radio show? How can they get their own radio show? It was all very humbling.
Moreso than the writing, what struck me was how discerning they were with the poems. Their feedback was on-point. I wonder how the session might have changed if it were with a group of soon-to-be fathers. Would they have opened up? Would they have allowed language to claim them in the way that these young women did?
Before leaving I felt a sobering reality that for many of these young women, being a teenage mom is the only identity allowed for them. Not high school student, poet, apprentice at some profession. . . And what was worse, is that there wasn’t much I could do about it as my time was up.