a ball of energy takes charge of student day of poetry
There’s an old Forties movie titled Ball of Fire in which Barbara Stanwyck, as the so-called flaming orb, wakes up a group of stodgy professors with her vitality and verve. No one would ever say that Mass Poetry’s Student Day of Poetry was even slightly stodgy – it has always engaged and excited students – but there is still an unmistakable bundle of energy in Jade Sylvan, the new organizer of SDOP. “I want to stay true to what SDOP has been as well as open it up to all different types of poetry in all different parts of the state,” she says, her voice almost trembling with excitement.
Jade was given the responsibility of taking over the five regional SDOPs near the end of 2015 and is planning the student events for the end of the 2016 school year. That term of responsibility could expand if only Mass Poetry had the funds to extend her salary. (Hint! Hint! to readers: Donate!)
Jade has created workshops, programs, and readings for the Massachusetts Poetry Festival and SDOP for several years, but this fall was her first dive into the logistics of the entire SDOP program. It was also the first time Mass Poetry has attempted to present SDOP on a regional basis. Last year the program for the entire state took place at U Mass Boston, a lovely place for the program, but a difficult place to get to for students and teachers from the Cape and from the western part of the state.
The first thing Jade learned about the new way of conducting the day-long program with students from many different schools is that you must be able to think quickly. “You can’t always plan for everything. You have to be flexible and keep your focus on the kids and the poets. With as many as a thousand students – all of them in a situation that differs radically from their daily routine – there’ll always be bumps in the road. It’s important not to get too tied up in little things.”
The bump Jade noticed in the first of the five regional events was that middle school students were at a very different stage of thinking about poetry and that it didn’t work best to place them in the same workshops as high school students. In the few days between the first regional event and the second, that adjustment was made, and middle school students were able to participate much more actively at their own level in the second program.
As someone whose enthusiasm bubbles over in her conversation, Jade attracts other unexpected enthusiasts, and she feeds on their excitement. “I love how thrilled all the teachers and workshop leaders are. And the parents and school workers.” When she was checking in at a hotel in the western part of the state, the hotel clerk wanted to know why she was there. When she explained the poetry event, the clerk was thrilled. “The enthusiasm I see in people like that clerk tells me how valuable poetry really is,” she says.
Jade also enjoys seeing enthusiasm ignite. “When the kids arrive in the morning, they seem half asleep. They aren’t sure what they are getting into, but toward the end of the day you can feel a palpable excitement and camaraderie. They really become supportive of each other.” The closing event for each regional program is a special wrap-up where the headliner poets who’ve led workshops read their poems, and then those students who want to are invited up on stage to read what they have written during the day. Jade gives an example of how supportive students can be: “There was a girl who volunteered to read her poem. But she became so nervous she couldn’t continue. As she apologized the whole audience began to encourage her by clapping in support, and she finished her poem to a great ovation.”
The student poetry programs for the rest of the school year are mostly in-school poetry days, where a teacher invites Mass Poetry to create a day of poetry for a specific school. Jade seems eager to plan the six or seven programs already scheduled. She has already ignited a blaze in her own energy, and she’s just waiting to have another group of students burst forth with great gusto for an entire day spent writing poetry.