Can I Write About This?

As the school year winds down, MFA mentors Matt Manco and Kat Smolinsky took a minute to reflect on their experience teaching creative writing to high school students at Saint John’s as part of the Gibbes’s art and literary arts outreach program.

Kat Smolinksy (MFA Poetry ’20)

Teenagers ask plenty of hard questions about poetry, but their favorite question is an easy one—​can I write about this?​ ​Can I write about my dirtbike? My grandmother? About the time I ding dong ditched my neighbor? About Thanksgiving dinner? About how much I do not want to write? T​he answer, of course, is always yes. That is the most important lesson I have gleaned from my time as a poetry instructor at St. John’s High School, just how far a little affirmation can take a student. How time spent at the side of one student’s desk is just as important as time spent in front of the room, dissecting a poem.

With the help of the staff at St. John’s and the Gibbes Museum of Art, we have been able to shape students’ understanding of poetry, art, and themselves. Every week I watch them make more and more connections and come to realize the value of their own experiences. I have witnessed students who once struggled to put pen to paper stand up and read their work out loud for the whole class. It is the voices of those students’ peers that mean the most to me, to hear them lifting each other up with snaps and applause. Poetry is a craft rooted in empathy and community, and it is a privilege to see those values continue to thrive at St. John’s.