A group of S[R] interns and poets were invited back to Combs High School in April to be the featured readers at the school’s community poetry night.
I accompanied our readers as a supportive but silent audience member, and truly, pulling up to the school, we didn’t know what to expect. I’ve been to a few poetry slams and an equal number of solo, scheduled readings in bookstores, but I’d never attended an event like this at my own, or any other, high school. As we approached the gymnasium doors, before we even had time to introduce ourselves, a student was greeting us, pulling us into the building and thanking us for being their special guests.
The room was decorated with shawls and paper flower in a bohemian style; some students wore shawls around their waists or macrame vests in keeping with the decor. Students and guests could grab a plate of fruit, chocolate and cheese and crackers or visit the tarot reading “tent” staged in the corner before finding a seat. We found a table set with a vase and a flower hand cut from newsprint. Every detail was lovingly done by the students in Ms. Burnquist’s senior creative writing class. Along the walls and windows were printed photos of each of these students’ faces, and right above where we were sitting, sipping our lemonade, was a photo of the S[R] group during our last visit to Combs.
The evening began with an open mic portion during which Combs students not in the creative writing class read their poems or performed music. Some were quiet and hurried, but they were followed with the loud encouragements of their classmates. Ms. Burnquist emceed the rest of the evening and took the stage to read one of her own poems, “Reflections of a Teacher.”
Eleven of her students followed her. They read work about heartbreak and aging and moving on. One student read a poem for her classmate, who couldn’t face the crowd, and each poet stepped off the stage to great applause and the occasionally shouted inside joke. Our readers – former poetry editor Abner Porzio and current poetry editors Skyler LaLone and Elizabeth Hansen – concluded the event, representing the world of poetry that exists beyond high school.
It seemed the evening was the students’ own sort of graduation from the creative writing program at Combs, a celebration of all they’ve discovered about themselves and about poetry in the last three years. As Ms. Burnquist said in her opening poem, “This classroom isn’t a step before you begin, you’ve already begun.” We’re so grateful to have been a part of this event and the past two years.