MANLIUS — The room is darkened, with lights aimed toward the make-shift stage. The microphone is tested and ready. The room is packed with students, shoulder to shoulder. Some are sitting in chairs, others sit on the floor. Other students and staff stand in the back of the room. The fourth annual Poetry Coffee House begins at Bureau Valley High School.
Standing in the rear of the BVHS media center, Poetry Coffee House organizer Joni Simpson watches the students as they recite original poetry and read classic poems, as they sing, play their guitars and perform skits, some in Spanish and German. After each performance, students and staff respond with the rounds of finger snapping, rather than applause.
The response has been amazing, Simpson said.
The Poetry Coffee House is held once a year, on the last day before spring break. The numbers of students participating each year has grown. Though some students are required to participate, such as Simpson's American Literature and British Literature students, other students volunteer to take to the stage and express themselves in poem or song or skit.
To enhance the coffee house vibe, the Bureau Valley library staff sell donated baked goods and snacks, at 25 cents each, with the proceeds going to the school library fund.
Simpson said the Poetry Coffee House idea isn't original with her but was something a co-worker had started for her class at Rochelle High School. While at Rochelle, Simpson began a similar coffee house for her class. After coming to Bureau Valley, Simpson continued and expanded the Poetry Coffee House to a school-wide level.
In her opinion, the Poetry Coffee House has been one of the best ways she's found to get students involved with poetry, Simpson said.
"In our culture today, many kids don't read poetry on their own a lot of times," Simpson said. "I love poetry. My father read poetry to me, and now I read poetry to my children. Many of our kids haven't had that opportunity, and this (Poetry Coffee House) helps give them that chance."
What's impressed her the most about the Poetry Coffee House has been the wide range of talent from the Bureau Valley students, Simpson said.
"While you know about the talents of some kids, other students surprise you with their talent," Simpson said. "Students who may not necessarily be at the forefront of the social groups are out in front reading their poems or performing a song or playing a guitar. We get to see kids in a different setting and in a different light, and that's a very good thing."
BVHS senior Derrick Johnson is one of several students who performed original poems at the March 29 Poetry Coffee House. Johnson performed his poem, "Mauve" with classmate Samantha Nearing.
"Sometimes in life, you're confused. We have to find something to turn to, and I think we all can turn to mauve because mauve is what you want it to be," Johnson said. "I am kind of an out-there guy, and that's why mauve was my inspiration for my original poem."
The bottom line is to give students an appreciation of poetry and how it relates to their lives, Simpson said.
"I hope, through the Poetry Coffee House, to accomplish a connection of poetry into daily life," Simpson said. "So many kids today are consumed with our present culture without an understanding of our past culture. Through poetry they can get that connection to the past, outside of the formal teaching setting of the classroom."
BCR Correspondent Alivia Hatten contributed to this story.
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