YSA’s 2015 Poetry Workshops

Show Not Tell – A Lesson in Learning

Every third Friday of the month, slam poets Natasha Huey and Gabriel Cortez lead a YSA workshop, designed to teach youth about the written word. The next day YSA hosts an open community event, where youth perform the works they create.

On January 19, 2015, twenty youth learned how to communicate a “feeling” without using the word itself. Natasha and Gabriel taught the youth how descriptive language can better reflect the complexity of a feeling and how thoughts, other emotions, and environmental context affect it.

For instance, youth were given the prompt: ‘Show Not Tell.’ Natasha and Gabriel began by giving two examples of feeling ‘nervous’ at a baseball game. In one version, someone could say, “I felt nervous about the game.” In another, someone could elaborate, “Sweat dripped down my brow as I walked up to the plate. My stomach dropped into my shoes, watching the pitcher whip a fireball. Anxious to make contact, I swung hard.” Which version is the vaguest? The youth easily picked the writing that used the word ‘nervous.’ Even though it was the literal word to describe the feeling, using it was less expressive than writing descriptively.

Then, Natasha and Gabriel had the youth take a turn. They were given a word and asked to talk about what thoughts, smells, emotions, tastes, or experiences it elicited. The professional poets gave the youth constructive feedback and ways to expand their thinking. They practiced describing a word without using it. Next, Natasha and Gabriel gave them the start, “I was scared when (…)”, and the youth began to write on their own. When the writing stopped, the professional poets gave them the choice to share their work. All said at least something. Subsequently, they tried, with a second beginning, “this feels like home (…)” The youth wrote silently, and were given another opportunity to share their writing or their “thoughts” on the writing. The majority stayed involved in the process.

A post-survey showed that youth learned new information about writing. The medium and method got them to think about morals, beauty and human experience, and feel comfortable talking about their ideas and personal stories.

  • 71% of youth ‘agree,’ ‘as a result of this training, I learned new information to help me respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace.’ 100% of the youth either ‘somewhat agree’ or ‘agree’ with this statement.
  • 82% of youth ‘agree,’ ‘as a result of this training, I drew more on prior experience, my interactions with youth, their knowledge of spoken word, and strategies for writing.’ 94% of the youth either ‘somewhat agree’ or ‘agree’ with this statement.
  • 71% of youth ‘agree’, ‘as a result of this training, I heard new information from Natasha and Gabriel, and communicated my knowledge of it.’ 100% of youth either ‘somewhat agree’ or ‘agree’ with this statement.
  • 71% of youth ‘agree’, ‘as a result of this training, I learned more about human experience (ideas, morals, beauty).’ 100% of youth either ‘somewhat agree’ or ‘agree’ with this statement.

YSA poetry training has clearly helped our youth feel more confident writing. In addition, these measures support objectives set out in the Common Core. The youth say they are better able to use their voice to relate to others and talk about themselves. Each month, the youth continue to grow their skill sets in the areas of communication and self-awareness. Their progress and work is exemplified in this select work:

“I was scared when I lost my movie theater job”: The lease was up. I was a good worker. I had been there since I graduated high school, so five years. My heart was broken. But the lease was up. I was here (YSA) when the phone call came: ‘NAME, the lease is up. We need you to come give your stuff.’ It was my first job. Apart from YSA, this was the only way to support myself and my mother. I had trouble finding a job in the first place. No one wants to hire a disabled person. Darn, the case was up.

“YSA feels like home”: I’ve been here a long time, 3 years. I met Sally and Victor. Victor’s nice. He helps me get back my heart. Every person that comes into YSA turns into my friends, my family. It’s like a brotherhood and a sisterhood. Brothers and sisters helping you find your way. Their plan was to teach me to print, to become a better artist. We are friendly with each other. We take breaks with each other. We are family. We argue, we have our problems, but we are family. Oh and Danielle she is so funny.