Young poets move crowd at Farnsworth to laughter tears

GUILDERLAND — They spoke words of joy and of love. They spoke words of fear and of sorrow. They spoke words of hope — of today and of tomorrow.

Young poets and poetry lovers stepped to the microphone, one by one, last Thursday night. Some held books of published poems. Others held papers with their own words.

The crowd at Farnsworth Middle School was hushed during much of the poetry jam. People listened, really listened. Sometimes they laughed. Occasionally, they cheered. Always, at the end of each poem, they snapped their fingers, the staccato sound rippling across the hall, to show their approval.

Their guide was Charles R. Smith Jr. — a tall black man with a gentle manner. A photographer and poet, he has published a half-dozen children’s books. Last week, he taught classes at Farnsworth.

Thursday night, Smith urged the young poets to make the microphone their own. He demonstrated — clowning to look like Elvis Presley at the mic — and then performed one of his own poems to a pin-drop quiet room.
"The role of a poet, throughout history," said Smith, "is a storyteller." Poets, he said, relate "words that connect to you in an emotional way."

During the intermission, he was swamped with kids clustering about him like groupies around a rock star.
Lynne Wells, the supervisor for language arts, social studies and reading at Farnsworth, said the school has hosted poetry jams for five or six years now. "It grows every year," she told The Enterprise.
"It’s a great way for kids to express themselves," she went on. "They obviously feel comfortable, but they’re taking a risk in reading to peers and adults they know, and ones they don’t know."
Mary Jeanne Dicker, the school librarian who helped organize the event, said, "When we started, we called it a coffee house, but we decided that sounded old-fashioned, so now it’s a poetry jam."
She described herself as a "poetry appreciator" and said, "Sporting events happen all the time. It’s important to have something like this, for kids to get recognized in a different arena."

The kids read poems written by Langston Hughes, and Maya Angelou, a lot by Shel Silverstein, and also by Smith himself.

Some read in pairs, or even trios; most read alone. They moved from chair to chair, waiting their turn at the microphone; the last chair was an overstuffed easy chair.

Cameron Dobbs handled the mic with aplomb and commanded the audience with his words.
Wearing an oversized team jersey and a cocked baseball cap, Dobbs stood confidently before the microphone and read with a rapid-fire cadence that sounded like rap music: "B’ball is my game...My game is tight; my nickname is ‘Flight’...."

Dobbs, who is 11 years old and in the sixth grade, said he has been writing since second grade.
"I love to write, to express myself," he told The Enterprise during intermission.

He had never read at a jam before, he said, but he liked it. His mother was surprised and proud to hear his poetry.
How does he set about writing his poems" "It just comes," said Dobbs, with a shrug and a smile.

Sarah Khaliai perched delicately on a stool in front of the microphone and read a poem dedicated to her mother.
"Some people think the sun is beautiful...To me, a mother is the most beautiful thing in the world...It matters how beautiful she is on the inside," recited Khaliai.

Her poem went on to describe different kinds of mothers — from those that looked like supermodels to those hidden behind burkas.
"When I was small, my mother took my hand to teach me how to walk," said Khaliai. "Now she takes my hand and teaches me how to love."
Asked afterwards what inspired her to write the poem, Khaliai said, "I thought Afghan women were so beautiful but nobody got to see their beauty."
Khaliai said she started writing when she was seven. "At first, I didn’t think I had talent for writing," she said. "One day, my teacher told me I was a good writer."

From that day on, she worked at her writing.
What inspires her" "I love that I can get my feelings out and share them with people," she said. "My poetry revolves around my life."
Khaliai said she writes "really often" and is working on a book about Afghanistan, the country where her parents grew up.
Her "number-one goal," when she is older, Khaliai said, is to be a journalist; she would like to report for CNN.
Her mother, Nila Khaliai, said she is proud of her daughter and her writing. On hearing her daughter’s poem, she said, "She makes me cry. She writes with such emotion."

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