By Camila Ryder
As English Department Chair Dr. Tyke O’Brien was preparing for the spring semester, she wanted her 9th grade English students—known as 9F and 9G—to create something together.
The classes had recently read poet Ross Gay’s book Against Which and watched him recite his poem “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude,” in which he meditates upon what we lose and what we find solace in—whether it’s something grand or minute.
“We went very deep into these poems that are emotional and personal. Some are extremely painful, and others are celebratory and revelatory,” O’Brien says. “It’s just the stuff of life.”
Before the students wrote analytical essays of these poems, O’Brien prompted them to create a collective poem out of their individual writings that were inspired by Gay’s original piece and reflected their own gratitude.
“Ninth grade is a great time for a collaboration like this,” O’Brien explains. “Sometimes they come in at the beginning of the year not knowing each other—they have so much spunk, zest, creative energy, and silliness; collaborative work brings them a strong sense of teamwork and camaraderie. I wanted them to come together as a class and create together.”
The students walked around Prep’s campus for some time alone, to get some space and clear their heads, observing what they saw or reflecting on a memory. “Poets pay attention, and this was a chance to be inspired, as poets and observers,” O’Brien says.
After writing their own stanzas that mused upon gratitude, the students in each class came back together. They partnered up in small groups, acting as “sequencers” (who assembled the order of the stanzas, finding threads and themes between them), “titlers,” “printers,” and “designers,” to create one collective poem.
O’Brien notes that the students chose the group that they were either most comfortable in—or chose to challenge themselves and try out a new skill.
Simultaneously unique to each student and a chorus of all their voices, their poems evoked gratitude for the world around and within them and allowed for pause within their busy lives. “This was their moment—they made it a poem that was entirely theirs,” O’Brien shares.
“The stanzas in each classes’ poems read like one cohesive artwork—they decided to remove their individual names next to the stanzas they’d written and rather speak as a group, to make their voices come together,” she says. “When they worked together as a group, there was no homogeneity—they’re all individuals with originality shining through within that collaboration.”
Read "Bevy of Bittersweet Gratitude" by 9F and "Catalogs on the Light of Gratitude" by 9G by clicking the image below.