Woodburn High students craft poems from the heart
Students at Woodburn High School recited original poems to an audience of their classmates Friday in the school lectorium. Their poems described missing home and caring for family, the joy and suffering of mothers and grandmothers, and finding love.
"… I remember when we sat outside/ behind some buildings/ and we simply just sat there/ and talked./ We talked about everything/from our past heart-rates/ to our worst fears/ to our favorite songs …," said Leslie Arroyo, reciting her poem to the audience.
Students composed their poetry during workshops taught by spoken word performer and poet Alejandro Jimenez. They wrote three-part poems about a person in their life, describing the happiest moments in their life for that person, that person's success, and their hopes for the future.
Jimenez said he tries to make poetry approachable for students and remove barriers to creative writing.
"It's about making the writing accessible to them, making it relevant, and making it known that it doesn't have to look a certain way," Jimenez said. "The thing I always ask students is, be honest, whatever you are writing about be honest."
Jimenez is a two-time semifinalist of the National Poetry Slam and recently published his first collection of poems, "Moreno, Prieto, Brown."
Jimenez performed several of his poems Friday. "How the Women in My Family Dance," described his mother's strength and joy in the face of hardship. In "When They Come for Me," Jimenez prepares his girlfriend in case Immigration and Customs Enforcement comes to detain and deport him.
Jimenez arrived in Hood River from Colima, Mexico in 1995 with his mother, a farm worker. During the presentation he recalled working alongside his mother on farms as a boy, and how she instructed him to run for the forest if ICE raided the workers. Jimenez was the first member of his family to graduate college, and currently lives in Denver, where he teaches after school programs.
Jimenez has been teaching workshops at schools across Oregon for the past week, visiting McKay High School in Salem, David Douglas and Roosevelt high schools in Portland and Oregon State University. Jimenez will next spend a week teaching and performing for the community in Hood River.
Jimenez said he first wrote poetry for the attention of a girl in high school.
"That's the silly answer," he said. "The real answer is, I went to college at Willamette and it was super white. So that's when I realized, like really in my face realized, wow… why aren't there more people that look like me here?" Jimenez said.
Jimenez said he started writing poetry about his feelings and writing social commentary about race, politics and representation. Poetry is important for people in underrepresented communities because it is a way for them to create their own narratives he said.
"Something I always try to bring up with students, is the idea that we have to tell our own stories, or other people will tell them for us," Jimenez said. "Therein lies the importance of speaking for ourselves."