CHOCTAW — Ninety freshmen put their voices on the pavement Thursday at Choctaw High School. Using chalk, they wrote verses of their favorite poems, including some originals, in a busy courtyard.
English teacher Dustin Johnson had heard about Poem in Your Pocket Day, a social media effort to carry a favorite poem on Thursday and share it.
Johnson teaches a unit on mythology, and his students read a Shakespeare play or two every year. But when he teaches poetry, he sees a different side of them.
“I had a student really just grab hold of the poems and use it to really get a sense of himself,” he said.
Something about the structure of a poem helps his teens express themselves, Johnson said.
“In a way it gives them a voice that, perhaps, they haven't shared before,” he said.
On Thursday, Johnson said, he saw a lot of poems about friendship, dreams and love. There were some that dealt with the value of life itself and others that explored darker themes such as death and violence.
“Through poetry they can really express some of the hardships, some of the trials and some of the goals that they experience in life,” Johnson said.
One poem argued, “Friends last a long time / But best friends last forever / Friends may backstab you / But best friends never.”
Nearby was a poem titled “Mom” with stanzas speaking of a broken relationship between a mother and daughter.
On the other side of the courtyard, Cheyenne Bennett brought a poem with her in honor of her mother.
“Me and my mom have grown really, really close over the past couple years ... and I felt like I wanted to express that,” Bennett said.
She framed the teal letters of “My Angel” by Breana Greathouse with the outline of a stream, stringing the words along a puddle of water from a nearby air-conditioning unit. Some words, like “good,” “intelligent” and “mother,” were written in a pale orange. Her favorite lines were underlined.
“My angel is a woman who walks upon the earth / she shows me my potential and all that I am worth,” the poem states.
Brittanie Anderson, who said she sometimes writes poems at home, shared “The Voice” by Shel Silverstein, which calls for everyone to “just listen to / the voice that speaks inside.”
“It really relates to what high schoolers and everyone else goes through,” Anderson said. “If you focus on what everyone else is saying to you, you're not going to know what you want.”
Carleigh Gierhart said she hadn't tried writing poetry until she wrote the poem she chalked on Thursday. With encouragement from her classmates, she seemed to lose any fear of sharing.
“This was the first poem that I wrote, and I felt really confident about it,” Gierhart said.
She said she was stuck at home with writer's block and a radio tuned to a Christian music station when she got the idea to include Scripture. She drew her poem in blue, with asterisks on every other line linking to different parts of the Bible.
“Even when I'm continually messing up / You are constantly forgiving me,” she wrote.
Michael Cote also wrote his own poem.
“I wrote about the Virginia Tech massacre because it shows deep feeling and a lot of loss,” he said.
Cote, who plays basketball and football, remembered watching a game that included a candlelight memorial service after the shooting, and when he was up late recently, searching for a powerful subject, that's what he remembered.
“With pain as sharp as the tip of a sword / The crying echoed, fear tiptoed,” he wrote in big, red letters.
Mixed in with the originals and lesser known pieces were poems by Edgar Allan Poe and Robert Frost. Dr. Seuss' “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” got loose and traveled in a line between neighboring verses before ending abruptly on the side of a building.
Johnson said he hopes the power of poetry will last a little longer than the chalk on the sidewalk.
“Trying something new that they end up loving is what it's all about to me,” he said.