How did you first get involved with NWC?
I moved here to Nebraska in 2011, and I was blessed enough to be reading poems with a guy named Jim Coppoc at a coffeehouse in Pittsburgh. He said, “you’re moving to Nebraska? you need to know Matt Mason.” And so I made sure I knew Matt Mason. He told be about LtaB and the NWC and I was ALL IN!
Why do you stay involved?
Because I have seen this program transform the lives of kids all over the state, helping them gain confidence, make friends, work through trauma, and feel finally that their voices are being heard. And honestly, as a writer, there’s is nothing better than being around fearless high school poets several times each week. They remind me that writing is about trying things out, just showing up to see what happens on the page if you start writing. There is no better way to get (and to continue) know yourself. And I wanna know what I’m all about. The best way to stay on that lifelong project is to surround myself with communities in which other people are committed to that lifelong project of knowing the self and knowing the world. LtaB poets are committed to this. The NWC is committed to this. So I’m gonna hang around here as long as possible!
Could you explain a little about what you do as a teaching artist?
This year, I am serving at Lincoln City Coordinator, so I spend a lot of time visiting schools, talking with coaches and teachers about their teams, and giving the best advice I can along the way to the poets who share their work with me. This year I have also been advising the Western half of Nebraska, working with Ogallla and Gothenburg as they bring teams to LtaB for the first time! It’s been great this year to really get a sense of what and how all the teams in this part of the state are doing. I am really impressed with the growth of the Lincoln (and surrounding area) teams this year. I also supervise our awesome team of interns from UNL, and I’ve been spending time with those students teaching them how to bout manage, how to host a bout, and getting them ready for the big launch of LtaB!
What’s the most gratifying thing that has happened while you’ve been with NWC?
It’s really hard to pick “the most,” but I can say that last year when I was coaching North Star, we had a talented poet, Rachel, on our team who totally blanked for a second at finals. Her mother was listening live to a poem she had written for her for the first time, and the Holland Center was full of people, and she just lost the poem for a just moment (but of course feels like eternity). I sat there powerless to help as her teammates snapped and said, “you got this.” Suddenly, she bowed her head, looked up and just delivered the poem. Watching this young person, quiet all the noise of anxiety in her head, listening to her teammates encourage her, hearing her recover and deliver the poem in all its glory and power (even while speeding up so she wouldn’t come in over time), it was just remarkable. I turned to her parents when the poem was over, and the high scores popped up all over, I said, “that’s gotta be a proud moment–not because she’s a gifted poet and performer, but because you raised a kid who could look in the face of fear, anxiety, and panic, and just collect herself and respond.” It was astonishing to watch, and something I’ll never forget.
How does the work you do with the NWC inform and feed your own creative work?
This one is easy. Amazing poets make me feel like writing, and LtaB kids in the Great Plains are amazing poets with unique and significant stories to tell! So I just follow their lead. They write–I go home and do the same! That is, if my two year-old lets me that day!
What other projects are you working on right now?
I am writing a book about the teaching of writing that is coming out in 2017 with the University of Pittsburgh Press, so I am spending a lot of time on that project as well as getting ready for the oncoming LtaB season, which I know is going to be AWESOME!