LGBTQ youth congregate to share poetry

on October 13, 2015

In a brightly decorated room in the event space Oakstop, seven teenagers laugh with one another as they share anecdotes from the past week. A box of pizza balances on the table next to the entrance. The young people, ages 13 to 19, circle around an oblong table, some chatting, others writing or drawing in their notebooks. Colored pencils are scattered in a pile, like pick-up sticks, alongside a pencil bag with a Scrabble piece design.

This group is attending a workshop for queer poets and their allies, a free after-school program hosted by the organization Youth Speaks. Youth Speaks was founded in San Francisco in 1996 and promotes literacy for young people by holding poetry slams, educational events, and theater and digital programs. This specific workshop allows students who self-identify as queer poets or their allies (Q.P.A.) to write and share poetry together, as Trey Amos, the workshop’s facilitator, works with the attendees to hone their craft. It began on September 10 and will continue until next May.

“It’s usually a pretty intimate group, and I prefer it that way,” said Amos, a second-year poet mentor fellow with Youth Speaks, a position in which he advises teaching artists and leads arts education programs for young people. “I’d love to reach as many people as possible, but there’s something so special about a small group of young people trusting each other in a very special way that is pretty unique to this space.”

This is the workshop’s first year. It was created partly because of participant feedback in the annual Youth Speaks showcase Queeriosity, a spoken word and performance event for LGBTQ young people. The showcase this summer was preceded by a six-week writing workshop, and afterward, many participants said six weeks wasn’t long enough.

One of the key elements of this workshop is it being a “safe space,” a space in which all attendees feel safe expressing themselves. All participants supported one another as they shared poems that delved into identity issues and struggles they have faced, from family and relationship conflicts to sexual harassment. All were encouraged to share their poetry, but none were pressured to do so. At a few points, poets introduced their work by stating that it dealt with sensitive topics, so that others could step out of the room if needed.

At the same time, participants felt free to write about any topics they needed to explore.

“I think identity is a big part of coming of age, and a period of growth that happens, in your teenage years,” said Amos. “And for most people, including myself, writing has been a way to kind of explore catharsis about the things that are triggering or traumatizing for you.”

Throughout the workshop, the teenagers responded to two writing prompts: Write a “how to” poem and write a poem entitled “Parts of me I want to heal.”

Click on the audio link below to listen to their work.

Ash Phillips, Nicole Lovett, and Trey Amos read poetry and speak about Q.P.A. workshop.

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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