Fall is here and Chinati’s education team is deeply involved with its annual Seeing Poetry project, produced in partnership with Marfa High School. At the start of every school year, Chinati educators work with the freshman class English teacher at MHS to delve into the mystery and power of poetry. “This is part of their first introduction to high school,” says Michael Roch, the museum’s education director. “The project has become a high school tradition. We’re now in our sixth year of Seeing Poetry, which means virtually every student in the high school has participated in the program.”
The project starts with a visit to Chinati, during which the entire ninth grade class – 24 students strong this year – and their teacher, Sabra Laviers, explore the museum’s collection of poems by Carl Andre. There is much to talk about. These 270 works are both spare and graphically interesting, and the meaning of the content can be elusive. Chinati educators then make regular treks to the high school campus, where they and Laviers guide students to make their own poetry. Given free rein to use typewriters and found materials, the students often craft their poems with an eye toward how the words look on the page. Over the course of about three months, the class writes and edits their work, which is then published in a zine that’s as creative, chaotic and touching as the students themselves.
Finally, toward the end of the semester, all students from seventh through 12th grades, along with family, friends and community members, assemble in the school auditorium for a public reading of the works by the authors. It’s not easy to get up and read before an audience. It’s not easy to be vulnerable in front of peers and strangers. Yet this is a point of pride for students who participate and a moment for the upper classmen to show support. “There is a lot of cheering from the students in the audience during the reading,” says Roch. “Some of the poetry is funny, some of it is pretty obtuse and some of it is really personal and emotional. The older kids who’ve done it before know all that and those cheers are super encouraging.”
An ice cream social follows the reading and students take home copies of their zine. The school library and Marfa Public Library also receive copies to add to their collections. “Every year we look forward to the poems they create,” says Roch. “We’re interested in what they have to say and how they choose to present their poems graphically. No two is ever the same and that’s great.”
Chinati’seducational and public programming is supported with generous grants from the Texas Commission on the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, The Brown Foundation, The Cowles Charitable Trust, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, George and Mary Josephine Hamman Foundation, The Hearst Foundations, Carl B. & Florence E. King Foundation, City of Marfa, Permian Basin Area Foundation, Rosenthal Family Foundation, Warren Skaaren Charitable Trust, Tillapaugh Public History Fund of Permian Basin Area Foundation, and Susan Vaughan Foundation.