Lindsey Boldt lives in Oakland and commutes to San Francisco and Sausalito to work as a teaching artist with elementary and middle school aged people and as an editor with The Post-Apollo Press. She is also co-editor/publisher of Summer BF Press with Steve Orth and contributes her labor to Writers Bloc and Occupy Oakland. Chapbooks include "Oh My, Hell Yes", "Overboard Rampage" and "Titties for Lindsey" (forthcoming). Her first book, Overboard, is forthcoming from Publication Studio Press.
-Tell the people what I do for work: teaching artist
-Difficult to decide what to focus on today so I decided to talk about a place in my life where the topics of day converge most dramatically: poetry, activism and work, which for me is in my work as a teaching artist.
-Read a poem from Ulloa-Po! and from Marin Juvenile Hall Anthology
So, those poems sort of blew me away and still blow me away whenever I read them. I want to say first that when it comes to “teaching” poetry, there isn’t much teaching going on. You don’t have to teach kids to write poetry really, because you don’t have to teach kids how to be imaginative, or inquisitive or observant--all qualities that poets tend to possess and for the really brilliant ones, how they express they’re unique kind of genius. One of the things I’ve learned from being a teaching artist is that poetry is not a specialized realm of esoteric knowledge harbored, cherished and protected by a small group of believers.
I’d like to let you all in on a line of questioning that I often preoccupies me. I don’t think it’s necessarily a very productive line of questioning, but it happens. It begins with me considering the state of things: When we are in the midst of an incomprehensibly high stakes global crisis, when our rights are being pulled out from under us by increasingly obvious slight of hand, when I’m never sure if I’ll have work, when some of my students parents are either already unemployed or live in fear of becoming so, when some of my students live in a near constant state of chaos threatened by violence, neglect, indifference, and the very real prospect of and expectation that they will end up in prison.
Why teach poetry? If I really want to help youth today why not teach civics or radical political history or farming or environmental science instead? How can I justify my presence in their classroom? How can I communicate the importance of poetry? What do I, a privileged girl from Washington State, have to teach or inspire in my students? Would they be better served by someone from their own neighborhood? Someone who came from a similar background? Would my students respond better to and gain more from a different kind of artist, say, a different artist? Does my style of writing, my aesthetic communicate or perpetuate a culture of oppression? What do my students really need to know to survive? What tools can I give them?
And then I try to relax, try to remind myself that poetry saved me, that it has been essential to my survival in no small way, so there must be something to it. Then, I try to tease apart a mess of emotionally laden memories, patterns of judgment and guilt, etc. and figure out what it is about poetry that is special, that is important, useful, essential, that lets me give it and myself a break. I come back to the qualities I mentioned before: imagination, inquisitiveness observation and also reflection. These are important skills.
skills. They won’t show up on any standardized test, but without them nothing can change.
Certain things have been made concrete for me through teaching that were only ever abstract. The fact that I know the work of very few poets of color well enough to confidently bring into a class and even fewer poets of color personally, has been made very clear, and the more I try to do something about it, the more I realize how much work I really have to do.
So, as the school year ramps up, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I can do this year in my personal life and in my poetry and journalism classes. I spent a lot of the summer reading, learning, and talking about current and historical radical politics, community organizing and radical pedagogy. I feel afraid about a lot of things. I feel unsure. But I also feel excited about experiments i.e.:
-Bringing the Black Panther Party 10 pt Program to a middle school classroom and asking students to write their own version.
-Performing/having a day at the beach on a BART platform
-Bringing a section of narrative from Karen Tei Yamashita’s I-Hotel to an elementary school creative writing workshop and hoping the students there will find something in it to relate to.
-Performing the qualities of imagination, inquisitiveness, observation and reflection in my role as poet, teacher and within a role that feels new even though it was my first, the day I was born in the United States, that of a citizen.