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The Tables are Turned on the Teacher: Tales from Writing Workshop

A few years ago, Susan Odgers, Michael Anderson, and I received an NMC Foundation Grant to run a writing workshop with local people who had in the past or were then currently experiencing homelessness. With the help of Ryan Hannon of Goodwill Street Outreach, my former student, we were introduced to people who would be interested in participating in this workshop and perhaps would produce writing about experiencing homelessness that could be published in a new zine focused on homelessness.

In the workshop we read and wrote all kinds of things. Some of it did focus on homelessness, and some of it did get published in the zine. After our grant ran out, the workshop continued without us in various forms, and when the new zine stopped publishing, another group started up a local street paper and the writing continued. Recently, I met one of the workshop participants and she told me that the group was continuing to meet and write on Saturday mornings. She invited me to come visit, and I’ve been attending and listening and reading and writing with them again the past few weeks.

This past Saturday, along with the other writers, I was asked to create a 14 line poem based on a sequence of prompts for each line such as “Ask a question without using the pronoun ‘I.’” I completed the tasks like everyone else, even grumbling a bit about how ridiculous the resulting “poem” would be. Here are the last few lines of my experiment:

Will I have the courage to explain?

On the highway

The semi-trucks swished by splashing rivers of brown water on my car

I see the stop sign

Because the day dawns

The table is dulled by palm prints and spilled beer and cracker crumbs

Lemons smell on the highway

I will if you smile and say we can move on.

I couldn’t help but feel that there was a bit of smirking friendly revenge as workshop participants told me what they found interesting about my “poem.” “Well Melissa, the idea of lemons on the highway was unexpected but memorable.” “I really liked the bit about the muddy water from the semi.” It was ridiculous and yet they would make meaning from it for me and for each other.

Note/Caveat: The correlation of Mexican lemons and highway accidents appears on the interwebs in many formats as some kind of critical thinking exercise. I had no idea there was a conversation about lemons and highways before writing my “poem.”

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