I landed a grant to bring my favorite poet across the country to meet me (and my students)

by Mr. Sheehy

Years ago–maybe a decade?–I asked Aaron Belz if our students’ newspaper could reprint one of his poems in our paper edition. His publisher approved and we ran “Beard, Beard” in an issue of the Pine Needle. I love that poem, where a man shaves his beard only to lose his love; but he’s willing to do what it takes to get it back (“I’ll trade it for your love, no less”).

belz pic.jpgYears later, as Valentine’s Day approached, I made a crack on Twitter that I was tempted to toss my lesson plans and spend the day reading Aaron Belz’s love poems. Belz (@aaronbelz) responded, daring me to do just that, and he sent me a batch of additional poems to help me along the way. My students loved that class; we recited the poems aloud to one another, trying out new emphases and slants. We particularly loved “Down to Chill,” though it seemed like each person had a favorite. I still enjoy “Crush,” (which you can read here under the title “Love”) but with my students being too young to remember anything about George W. Bush’s presidency, let alone his campaign, they didn’t really get it.

Meanwhile, as I have continued to push my students to write well, I have struggled with their voices. My pressing question for the last four or five years has been, how do I help them develop an ear for the language? Some students can’t seem to hear their work–how can I help them tune their ears? We can’t all be John Keats, hearing the nuances and interplay of open and closed vowels, but can’t we at least write like we hear parallelism?

My solution has been to focus more on poetry, so we read a poem at the beginning of each class period, but I know this is not enough. What I really need, I thought, is a poet who can come and help us all learn to work with our ears.

But how does one simply get a great poet to come and teach your students about the sound and nuances of language?

I didn’t know, but I asked Aaron Belz if he would be willing to fly to Rapid City.

He said yes.

I said, Wow.

He said when.

I said, how about when I land a grant to pay for it?

The Rapid City Public School Foundation has funded a couple projects for me through their grant program. My students published a print-magazine called the Codex (I’ve since moved their essays online for wider reading), and they purchased for me a video conferencing system, which, so far, my journalism students have used to chat with an alumnus who is editor of his college newspaper as well as to interview Eleanor Barkhorn, who is a managing editor at Vox.

But after Belz said yes, I shot for the stars, and the Foundation handed me one.

So on March 8, Aaron Belz will be in Rapid City to share with our AP English students his insight into language. We’ll wrap up the day in our auditorium where we’ll pack the house with students and listen to him read his work.

Thus, while this is going to be a highlight of my career, I’ve got to act cool, you know?

Hopefully this t-shirt does the trick.

Belz t shirt