Our theme of the residency was "empathy," and for the 8th grade project students imagined redesigning the Metropolitan Transit Authority's Poetry-in-Motion campaign. Our class aspired to inject some fiercer, more socially-conscious, mind-opening poems into the public eye. We decided to deconstruct stereotypes. Each student reflected on situations where they had been stereotyped based on aspects of their identities.
Drawing inspiration from Maya Angelou, Claudia Rankine, Rita Dove, and other poets, our students crafted poems that used innovative line breaks, second-person address, and strong imagery to express their feelings about stereotypes. The poems aimed to question and break down the thought processes that lead to stereotyping in front of an audience as diverse as the public transportation crowds.
Poetry-in-Motion poems are often juxtaposed by a work of visual art. Students reflected on the meaning and value of juxtaposition, and chose an important line from their poems to project onto their bodies. Using different body poses, camera angles, and compositions, students took photographs that brought their lines of poetry to a new dimension. Their bodies served as both an aesthetic page for that selected line and visual proof of the person who wrote the poem. In our earlier projects, students attempted to empathize with other people. This project involved students figuring out how to persuade others to empathize. The relationships between the juxtaposed photographs and poems can be clear or ambiguous at times, and this aspect opens up multiple potential interpretations. These works by 8th graders at PS279 in the Bronx insist on a type of justice that honors the complexity of identity differences.