For the past five years, I have worked as an educator and author to promote and celebrate young writers and their work. Although youth have made huge gains in having their voices heard in the past couple of decades, there is still much work to be done. It is with this in mind that I invite you, in partnership with Canadian Teacher Magazine, to celebrate the best from our country’s young writers—those poems and stories that make us shiver with excitement, suspense and emotion.
In this issue I will introduce you to two young Quebec writers who just happen to be my students, and share a conversation I had with one of them about his work.
Steve Viveiros is sixteen years old and lives in Montreal-North. A student of Lester B. Pearson High School, Steve has been in my Learning for a Cause Writing Workshop for two years. In both years Steve has published a very poignant, moving and socially important piece of poetry. The following poem, A Mother’s Face, was his 2007 contribution to the anthology IF.
A Mother’s Face
A mother’s face
stares blankly at the TV,
her reflection, slightly distorted,
staring back, hoping, wondering…
“Twelve Canadian Troops Dead”
says the CNN headline—
then a picture,
a young boy, maybe eighteen
reflected in a tear
down a mother’s face.
Michael Sweet: Steve, what motivated you to write this poem?
Steve Viveiros: I have been emotionally affected by the thousands of lives that have perished by war and anger. That inspired me to write this piece and to try and communicate some of the pain I imagine others more connected to the war must feel.
Michael: Why write from the perspective of a mother and not that of a young boy your age, for example?
Steve: I wrote from the perspective of the mother because I wanted people to understand how families, not just the soldiers, are affected by war. I wanted people to try and imagine what a mother might go through.
Michael: What does the “slightly distorted” mean in your poem? Why is her face distorted?
Steve: It was just a setting thing, a mood thing. I wanted to show that it was an old television set and that it might not be the current war that we are speaking of—maybe the Gulf War, for instance. Her face is also distorted because she is not receiving the whole story about the war, about her son.
Michael: In your other poem, from Down to Earth, you have a line that reads, “over-packed boulevard of lost dreams and broken promises.” Steve, this is such emotion-packed quality writing, how did you think of these images?
Steve: I just imagined the world as it is. I thought of a packed highway, the smog, the exhaust… it just came from there.
Michael: The use of the word boulevard is great as it implies that the broken promises are not only associated with the world’s slums but tree-lined wealthy communities too. What are the broken promises that you speak of? Can you elaborate on this?
Steve: When I wrote of broken promises I think I was mostly speaking of how everyone makes promises to do better— in terms of the environment, protecting it—but that those promises often don’t amount to much… are often broken. We end up sticking to our habits in the end too often and, unfortunately, many of those habits have negative impacts on our world.
Anthony Perrozzi is another student from the workshop who is currently participating for a third year. In both of the last two years, Anthony has produced stunning pieces of poignant poetry. In the book IF, Anthony speaks of how it might feel to take someone’s life as a result of drinking and driving. He writes:
Too much booze,
I can’t even stand.
My friends are all laughing,
but I can’t feel my hands.
I jump into the car,
thinking I’ll make it home.
A flash of light—
now, everything’s a blur.
I ruined a life,
but not my own;
while flying high,
It would have been easier
just to die.
Again, a poem that seems to stab at the heart of how it might be to actually experience the invoked situation. Not only does Anthony point out the arrogance of the drinker, but also the ensuing overwhelming guilt.
Undoubtedly, writing poetry can bring one closer to imagining how others might feel as it allows us an intimate glimpse into the human condition. At once we are able to both visualize a situation and feel its accompanying emotion. Unlike prose, which merely tells us of a situation, poetry transports the mind and stirs the soul. Maxine Greene’s Variations on a Blue Guitar would be a great resource for any educator wanting to gain an in-depth understanding of how poetry, both the reading and writing of, might serve to strengthen our student’s empathetic abilities. The book is widely available.
I hope you have enjoyed reading some of the great writing coming out of Canadian classrooms and that you will stay tuned to see much more. Additionally, I am depending on you to send samples of the excellent writing you see come across your desk.
Get one of your students, and your writing project, featured in Youth Speaks!
Celebrate good writing, great writers and innovative writing teachers and projects. Send your comments and student writing to dmumford@CanadianTeacherMagazine.com.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Sweet lives, writes and teaches in Montreal, Quebec. He is the founder of Learning for a Cause. In 2008 Michael was inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame – Wall of Fame – and appointed to Canada’s Commission for UNESCO.
The Learning for a Cause Writing Workshop aims to increase student engagement and awareness in social concerns as well as to foster and promote quality creative writing. All students in the workshop have the opportunity to publish in internationally released annual anthologies at the end of the course. Rather than have students write for the recycle bin, or the teacher’s in-box, students write to inspire others toward positive social change. REAL students, REAL issues, REAL books! For more information on the writing program, or to purchase the books, log onto www.LearningforaCause.org.
Down to Earth
This anthology of student writing demonstrates two things: the depth of concern that young people are feeling about issues that face our planet today, and how passion for world health inspires their ability to express themselves in words. Focusing on the problems of global warming and environmental change, students at Lester B. Pearson High School in Montreal have recorded their fears and hopes for the future in poetry and short essays. A Foreward by Dr. Roberta Bondar and an Introduction by Justin Trudeau point out that the time for waiting for leadership is past, and that we all must do what we can to make change happen. Understanding the issues and formulating individual plans of action are the first steps. Perhaps reading the thoughts of these students will help your own students articulate their thoughts, or perhaps this volume will inspire your class to create an anthology too. Teachers can order copies of Down to Earth from LearningforaCause.org at a discounted price of $15 (+ shipping).
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s January 2009 issue.