By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager
Nine students. Two educators. One library.
It’s late Tuesday afternoon at Irving High School and the Edgar Allan Poets are gathered in a semi-circle inside the school’s tucked away library. As you can tell by that fabulous name, voted on by the very members siting in the room, this is a poetry club.
But this isn’t your usual poetry club. There’s no deep, philosophical conversation about the merits of Emily Dickinson and W.B. Yeats, or even their namesake himself. There are no rigid rules, members are invited to bring new members in anytime, and there’s always an open forum.
In fact much of the meeting consisted of each member getting up to read his or her original pieces. Think of this as a mini-DaVerse Lounge show minus the large audience and the soul-jazz band. The connection is particularly prescient: Not only did the inaugural member of the Edgar Allan Poets, 17-year-old Ricardo Vega, fuel his passion for poetry during his first time onstage at a DaVerse Lounge show three years ago, but DaVerse creator Will Richey sat in on the Poets meeting.
The breadth of poetic topics truly felt inspiring – what it means to be an adult; first love, first crush; identity, power to be yourself; broken hearts; feeling invisible; evolution; ecology; humanity; escaping stress; homesickness; and even an all-Spanish piece titled “Acento.” Each piece was followed by conversation, questions and critiques. The atmosphere never strayed from nurturing, inclusive and embracing.
“I feel secure,” says Fatima Castañeda, 15, who read a poem about an orange tree that reminded her of her late grandmother. “This room gives off this vibe that makes me feel secure. The people are really nice, they are kind, and they don’t judge you.“
Richey’s DaVerse Lounge mantra immediately comes to mind, “My voice has power to speak my truth and share my light.” Richey led the students, as well as Edgar Allan Poets advisors Sergio Soriano, an ESL English teacher, and Daniel Chacin, the school librarian, in a recitation of those liberating words.
DaVerse, a partnership between Big Thought and Journeyman Ink that dates back to 2009, also features 13 DaVerse Clubs in Dallas ISD middle and high school campuses with an average of 10-15 students per club. DaVerse Lounge thanks TACA, State Farm, and the Dallas Mavericks for the generous support. The next DaVerse Lounge show is Feb. 5 from 7-10 pm at Life in Deep Ellum.
The Edgar Allan Poets’ link to DaVerse Lounge clearly comes from Vega and also Castañeda, since both have worked with Richey in the past. But the idea for EAP germinated in January 2015 when Soriano and Chacin put up posters around campus trying to recruit members for their burgeoning poetry club. The two Irving High School faculty members felt the need for a platform where students could share their feelings.
“Nothing made more sense than starting a club where students’ feeling were written down, spoken (if need be) and understood,” says Soriano. “When I listen to them, I usually smile and think about how the power of words really is an art. They are artists. They draw their thoughts with every word they write and speak. They paint their world and allow us, teachers, to see their world.”
That world has a creative outlet, and for Yamishelle Perez, 17, being able to express her feelings on paper is paramount. “It helps me release my mind, what I feel, my experiences,” she says. “I like to write things and I have different ideas. It’s hard to fake your sadness. Whenever I’m sad I get a pencil and paper and just write it down. It’s better to share with people; two minds can come together on something.”
For Tobias Carbajal, 16, poetry was almost an afterthought. He admits he hadn’t written a single poem outside of a class assignment before he stepped foot in his first EAP meeting. It was Vega who encouraged him to attend.
“I wasn’t always into poetry; I was always drawing,” he says. “When Ricky told me about this I thought I would go. I wrote something just for this. I could tell my story, something that happened to me. Saying it is like getting something off my chest. I can accept myself more, forgive myself.”
Which leads us to Vega, the Edgar Allan Poets glue. He was the only member at the club’s first meeting and he immediately became its strongest cheerleader. His poetic trajectory began three years ago when he was in the Austin Middle School Book Club. There lies his introduction to Richey and DaVerse Lounge. During that prophetic DaVerse Lounge reading, Vega was so nervous on the mic that Richey stepped in to recite some of the poem with him. Their kinship was immediately cemented.
“I always had an interest in poetry, but I never took it up until that time,” says Vega. “I’m really happy how this club grew. We inspired Tobias. We have Shawna, who is a writer. She likes coming here to read her poems. We are like a family now.”
Richey, wearing his trademark newsboy cap, instantly felt a part of that family. He was deeply impressed by the students and their poetry – the different topics, styles – and especially the arms-open acceptance that permeated the room like the sweet aroma of freshly baked cookies. Richey, however, always returns to the power of spoken word and self-expression.
“There is a certain personal release that a writer experiences when etching words onto the page,” says Richey, “but there is the opportunity for collective release when the words are both spoken and received by another. Therein lies the magic of such transformation.”
Nine students. Two educators. One library. Infinite creativity.