“I can’t write poetry”


“I can’t write poetry,” she says. “I’m not a poet.”

All around students are sharing poems they’ve written, swapping images and lines, boasting about their work. Except one student. Amber sits quietly in the corner, drawing angry spirals over and over again in her journal. Teaching Artist Katie Rainey spots her and asks her about her poem.

“I’m not a poet,” Amber says.

It’s Wednesday, March 1st at The Young Women’s Leadership School (TYWLS) in Jamaica, Queens, which means that it’s time for their weekly class with Katie & Community-Word Project. However, it’s a very special day for the young women in this class because the two Teaching Artist trainees that have been assisting in this class as a part of CWP’s Teaching Artist Training & Internship Program (TATIP), Rabih Ahmed and Jennifer Jones, are facilitating the lesson for the first time ever. 

Rabih and Jennifer worked with Katie to create a lesson based off the creative writing curriculum they’d been working on for the past school year and now they’re ready to implement in the classroom. The lesson focuses on stereotypes and writing through the categories that people put us in in order to make something new and express our true identities. 

The young women of TYWLS respond enthusiastically to the lesson. Rabih and Jennifer use the normal opening free write to have the students reflect on the word stereotype and anytime they’ve found themselves or their loved ones a victim of it. They create poems from the pieces they’ve written, poems that showcase who they believe themselves to be and portray what others are missing when they succumb to stereotypes.

Concentration by Imani 

I’m a proud black
every woman
around is
powerful, they have
the chance to be
something different, a
chance to be a
leader and yes our
crowns may slump
over sometimes, but they
will never
fall off because as
women we
encourage not just
ourselves, but others to
do everything
men can and
can’t do.

The young women jump up again and again in excitement, wanting to share their pieces and make their voices heard.

Except one student.

“I’m not a poet,” Amber says. “I can’t write poetry.”

Lucky for Teaching Artist Katie Rainey, since the TATIP trainees are leading the class in their art-making, she gets to spend some one-on-one time with students that normally don’t get the extra attention they need. Today, Katie spends time working with Amber to craft a poem and show the young woman that poetry isn’t some ambiguous, unattainable thing, but something that Amber already has all the tools to make. She only needs to find her voice.

“What did you write about in your free write?” Katie asks. “About stereotypes.”
“About how people always think I’m white.”
“What do you mean?”
“They always say ‘Really?’ and look at me funny when I tell them I’m Latina.”
“Oh wow, I’d really like to hear more about that.”
“Really. I bet you could make that into a poem.”

Katie leaves Amber to tinker with her poem. After ten minutes or so, Amber waves Katie over with a giant grin on her face. 

Carries the world by Amber

a new day, no one to talk to,
only listen
listen to those who have nothing 
better to say
those who judge you
those who put you down.
“Who am I?”
Latina, Dominican, Puerto Rican
but in reality, to them, I’m too
white to be one of those girls,
“Really?” they say with such
surprise at my
ethnicity held up against
my skin color.
They see a white girl and
do not look for
the rest.