When a sixth-grader asked world-renowned poet Nikki Giovanni what the “hugging” and “kissing” means in her work “Winter Poem,” she walked over and showed him. Giovanni gave the boy a hug and a kiss on the cheek, affectionately kicking off a March 14 student poetry workshop.
Giovanni worked with Robert Goddard Montessori sixth-graders as part of the school’s first major poetry-focused field trip. The trip was a collaboration between Bowie State University and Robert Goddard, said Christina Kallon, a school secretary.
The event made some students nervous, but came with its own excitement.
And the poetry let students talk about challenging subjects.
Nija Bryant, 12, of Mitchellville said she wrote a poem about her autistic brother to help others understand him better.
“A lot of people think that he is weird,” Nija said. “People just don’t understand that he has special needs.”
After the poetry workshop, the students’ work will be collected and released on May 1 in a Bowie State University publication, the Journal of Africana Composition and Rhetoric. The journal also features scholarly writing on African studies.
Connie Jones, a language arts and reading teacher at Robert Goddard, said the students’ experience from the workshop would help them with future writing. They had studied Giovanni’s work, so it was a treat to work with her, Jones said.
“This is an experience that students won’t always get,” Jones said.
Sami Popol, 12, of Hyattsville said she was nervous, but enjoyed the opportunity to fine-tune her work.
She said the best thing about learning poetry is the freedom for the writer and reader.
“In poetry, you can express your feelings without saying exactly how you feel,” Sami said. “And it leaves it up to the reader to interpret it.”
Giovanni’s visit with the students and Bowie State University was part of a weekend event in which Giovanni discussed her work.
Giovanni has been recognized as Woman of the Year by several magazines and has published about 30 books for adults and children, according to her biography.
Jones said poetry lets students expand their overall writing ability.
“Poetry is a springboard to all kinds of writing,” Jones said. “It allows writers to express themselves in any genre.”