Letting the caged bird sing: English teacher revitalizes poetry on campus

October 19, 2017 — by Sherrie Shen

When English teacher Amy Keys first stepped onto campus seven years ago, she reveled in the poems adorning the school in celebration of National Poetry Month. From the paper tacked to redwood trees to the words featured on hallway walls, Keys knew she had found the school that shared her passion for the written word.

While she was a teacher at a high school in her home town of Madison, Wis., Keys advised the poetry club.

She hoped to do the same here someday too, recognizing that while students excel in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, fewer opportunities are available for those interested in the humanities, and especially poetry.

“Poetry is not a competitive zero-sum game of winner takes all,” Keys said. “It’s an experience where people together make and understand meaning from the text.”

Through her English 11 Honors class, Keys realized that although most students were originally afraid of poetry, they grew to love its unique expression of language later.

As a result, Keys decided to create the Poetry Club with the help of English teachers Suzanne Herzman, the Poetry Club adviser of a previous school, and Natasha Ritchie, the former adviser of Saratoga High’s Spoken Word/Slam Poetry Club.

While the school used to have both a poetry course and two poetry clubs, both died out soon after the retirement of longtime poetry teacher Judith Sutton.

To fill this vacuum, Keys has been trying to coordinate with Poetry Out Loud, a national poetry recitation contest. The Poetry Club plans to hold the school competition for Poetry Out Loud sometime in January. The contest will also have regional, state and national levels.

For now, the three English teachers are organizing club meetings befitting three different categories: reading, writing and analyzing poetry; preparation for Poetry Out Loud; and slam poetry, in which students write the poems they perform.

“The experience of having to memorize a poem is so important,” Keys said. “I think everyone should be doing more memorizations: it’s good for your brain, it’s good for your confidence.”

The club’s first meeting was held on Sept. 12 in Keys’s room 006, and the interested members volunteered for officer positions. Senior Varun Viswanath and junior Victor Liu will serve as co-presidents, junior Elaine Fan as vice president, senior Michelle Low and junior Esha Lakhotia as secretaries and senior Andrea Su as treasurer.

Poetry Club joined 20 other academic clubs on the first day of Club Fair, Oct. 3 and attracted a fair amount of attention.

“I was expecting many students to gravitate towards the more STEM-oriented clubs such as Math Club, but we were actually able to fill two entire pages with a list of emails and names,” Liu said.

The club already has plans to raise awareness of poetry during National Poetry Month, April, by decorating campus with poems and holding other events to incorporate language and poetry into daily school life.

“Poetry is the highest order of literature because it is the most distilled essence and the most intense pithy form of language, creating effects, conveying meaning and resonating with people at so many levels,” Keys said. “It’s exciting; it’s a puzzle to be solved.”