What I meant to say was…

On April 17, Natasha Huey and Gabriel Cortez came to YSA to teach youth about expressing ‘regret’ in poetry.

After a check-in to find out how youth were feeling, the group started writing to the prompt, ‘my heart felt heavy when…’. The goal was to keep the pen moving for five minutes. About half the youth found it difficult to write about regret. A youth explained, “the workshop challenged me to express my feelings.” Another agreed, “the most challenging part was to be honest and open.” Several of the youth openly admitted it was difficult to trust people with their stories.

Gabriel and Natasha tapped into this struggle and gave the next line, ‘what I meant to say was.’ It encouraged the youth to dig deeper into why their heart felt heavy. Since all the youth participated, more individuals felt comfortable pushing themselves. A youth elaborated, “I liked how everyone was really engaged in the activity—It was difficult!” Even though the activity was hard, the youth supported one another, holding the space in community.

Five more minutes passed. Gabriel added, “one more line: ‘I’m sorry what I really meant to say was (…).’” Again, the youth reframed their initial thoughts to describe their true feelings. Reco20140321_163242-2nsidering their story over and over again helped the youth push through writers block: “it was kinda hard to figure out what I was going to write.” There also was not a lot of time to write a response to the prompt, which stopped youth from second guessing their gut reactions. One youth said, “finishing in time and not being able to write everything I wanted, the way I wanted…I had fun getting out my regrets.”

The activity facilitated the youth getting their feelings out constructively. It also assisted community building. When the youth shared their poems with one another, a youth admitted, “I learned that some people’s lives are really tough.” Another echoed, “everyone had to think about things on a different level. It was challenging for me to think of a negative thing in my past.” Each person got something different out of the workshop, but there was a common sense of gratitude for peer support.

Next, Natasha and Gabriel handed our youth a poem which they were instructed to edit. They went over tactics to use, such a ‘cutting’ wordy sections. Then, the youth read the poem, writing their suggested changes in the margins. The group went over their proposaIMG_0520ls together to construct a whole new poem. Afterward, Natasha and Gabriel gave the youth their edited version of the poem as a point of comparison. They explained that there is no right or wrong way to edit.

More than half the youth reported they had learned how to better edit written work through this exercise. One youth stated, “I learned how to elaborate on a piece of writing and how to critique poems. It was challenging for me to find new ways to improve the poem.” Even youth who expressed a dislike for writing said, “what I’ve learned is it’s okay to make mistakes, just keep going, and don’t worry about errors. I liked letting my mind be free and stay true, even if it’s bad.” Our youth appreciated learning a new skill with the attitude of trying, instead of judging.

A youth summarized, “I liked writing poetry with a guideline. What I learned was how to reiterate things to make it more powerful.” Going through the lines ‘my heart felt heavy when,’ ‘what I meant to say was,’ ‘what I really meant to say’ in the writing about regret and editing helped the youth to see the power of repetition. It was a tool for better self-expression, digging deep into personal thoughts, as well as communicating artistically.



Regret Weighs Heavy
Regret weighs heavy on my heart when I remember
way back when
all them different little hoods
I useta stay back then
livin up in Filmore
pops would make my ends
that little ghetto park
where I useta play wit my friends
and tie down the [edit]
junkie in the driveway
rollin up his shake
gangtas laughin weight
what I meant to say was…
what I meant to say was
I wasn’t all the way in
I was young,
and I was blunted
always into some’in
I was runnin’ from myself
I was really frontin
I shoulda been workin hard
so we could both be stuntin
 I’m sorry what I really meant to say is…
I shouldn’t of left you hangin
feelin unappreciated
lookin back on all these problems
I indeed created
I shoulda handled more on time, not belated
Regret weighs heavy
Regret weighs heavy on my heart when
I remember allowing people to dumb down my intelligence
my self worth
my creativity
What I mean to say was
I let people abuse me for years not saying anything about it
I let it go on for too long
Sorry what I meant to say was
I should never have let those people get to me
and bring me down