The Aspen Words Youth Poetry Project has in recent years become a springtime rite for young creatives in the Roaring Fork Valley – a two-week melting pot of workshops and writing followed by a public performance.
This year is different, as all things are different amid the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic. The program will run virtually, but will also expand to span over three weeks of teaching and mentoring.
After 14 weeks, it will conclude with the public Youth Poetry Slam (also virtual) on April 29, closing National Poetry Month.
This new release brings three artist teachers to middle and high school classrooms between Aspen and Glenwood Spring and aims for a deeper engagement and more personal focus on students in creative writing workshops.
The three teaching poets, all new to the Aspen-based program, are Cynthia Amoah, Ohio-based poet and educator from Ghana; Natty Carrizosa, National Poetry Award winner, writer and speaker; and Joaquin Zihuatanejo, author of the “Arson” collection and “Dollars for Scholars” guide.
The trio have built a semester program and initiative approach that are tailored to the needs of young people enduring the pandemic.
âI think the art of poetry should be an in-person experience to have the most impact in person, so I thought it would be a difficult approach,â Amoah said in a phone interview from his time. home in Ohio at the end of the first week. workshops in January.
Using new tactics, Amoah discovered that teaching poets could meaningfully connect with students in the virtual format. They did poetry, they wrote together, they recited mantras, they discussed the art of creative writing and creativity in general.
âPoetry can be used anytime there is any type of human interaction,â Amoah concluded. âAs long as a student can hear me, as long as the group is engaged. “
Poetry programs for young people were among the last artistic events untouched by the pandemic last year. A powerful evening of poetic performance at the Hooch Craft Cocktail Bar in Aspen, packed with listeners in the basement space, unfolded in early February 2020, followed two weeks later by the exuberant Youth Poetry Slam at Carbondale bringing together the community of the whole valley.
Last year, an educational team of four poets led 100 workshops and 10 school assemblies in a two-week sprint.
This more sustained 2021 iteration with Amoah, Carrizosa and Zihuatanejo is intended to serve local students amid a mix of online, hybrid, and in-person class time at schools in the Aspen region.
âWe’re excited that these slam champions, animators, educators and poets are having a richer impact on RFV students through extended workshop touchpoints,â said Aspen Words CEO Adrienne Brodeur.
Their main goal is to empower students and provide lifelong tools.
âI hope I can give them a way to express themselves,â Amoah said. âI believe self-expression is gold. When a young person finds – or receives – the keys to expressing himself correctly, he discovers something much bigger than I think he would have ever imagined.
With that goal in mind, the mental, emotional and social challenges of the forced loneliness of the pandemic could be harnessed for positive results, Amoah suggested. She singled out writer and activist James Baldwin, who said: âPerhaps the artist’s main distinction is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men must necessarily avoid; the state of being alone.
If public health is good for anything, suggested Amoah, it could be it.
“In the state of being alone, this is where we really discover who we are, where we’re from, what makes us feel most alive,” said Amoah, who has completed a new manuscript of poetry during the stay-at-home periods of 2020. “It is with this knowledge of feeling most alive that we can then appear in the world.