Lutie creative writing class finds healing in writing poetry and has work published
A group of eight Lutie High School students are now published poets several times over, and their works have reached people all over the world, thanks to a semester-long creative writing/poetry course offered at the school last year.
‘They have a story to tell’
Superintendent Scot Young said that two years ago he decided to teach a high school poetry course in addition to his duties as administrator. The course was a semester long, offered in the first half of the year.
Although he enjoyed the first class in 2020, it was last year’s bunch that really made an impact on him.
“The kids could write. They have a story to tell,” he said. “The very first day of class we went outside to the pavilion. I asked them…’What’s your greatest fear?’ …and they told me. I asked but I didn’t think anyone would respond. That was tough.”
Young said after teaching the students some preliminary writing skills and how to write certain types of poems, they dove in to produce their own works.
He didn’t put restrictions on the students’ subject matter and let them choose whatever they wanted to write about.
“They wrote poems every day, and we read them every day,” Young said. “…they’re telling their own story. They start to write about themselves, their struggles, their joys. If a teacher wants to know about their children, you sure will. More than you want to know.”
‘It’s emotional to say the least’
Young explained that the eight students in the class each had encountered some type of “hard-knock trauma,” and those difficulties often fueled some of the most raw and impactful poetry.
The poems they produced were inspiring and heart-breaking at the same time, Young said.
“If you’re not too tough, you go home every night and cry. And even if you are tough, it’s emotional to say the least,” Young said. “It was a long semester. I thought there was no way you could teach this class all year because you’d be a wreck.”
Young says he has encountered a number of students over the years with very difficult life circumstances and most students have problems. To help students work through their difficulties, the school employs a clinical social worker who is available from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. four days a week. Young says the students fill every open slot in the social worker’s schedule. During times when the social worker is not there, a licensed private counselor is on-site and offers counseling sessions.
“It’s not just here. I’ve talked to other places, and it’s everywhere. We’re so small here that the percentage is higher [of students experiencing serious trauma], and the area contributes to that.”
Working with the Missouri Poet Laureate
During last year’s poetry class, Young talked to friends and acquaintances and shared thoughts on social media about the work the 15 and 16 year olds were doing, which led to connections with others in the poetry field.
“…and it just kind of evolved,” he said.
One exciting connection the class made was with Missouri Poet Laureate by Maryfrances Wagner.
Wagner was appointed to the position of state poet laureate by Missouri Governor Mike Parson in 2021 and is tasked with encouraging poetry throughout the state. She often works with youth and school-aged children to inspire a love of poetry early in life.
Wagner also happened to be Young’s high school English teacher at Raytown High School in the 1970s.
“He was a good student and well-liked by the students and teachers even though he had a bit of the rebel in him, but he was a thinker and asked questions and wanted to know more about things,” Wagner told the Times. “When I taught Richard Brautigan, Scot really connected with Brautigan’s poetry, and it was the beginning of his own and continued journey with poetry and many other poets.”
Wagner said she and Young have touched base several times over the years as both have continued to write and share their own poetry.
“He told me long ago that even when he became a superintendent, he still wanted to teach one creative writing class each year, and he always asked the counselors at the bigger schools to ‘give me your broken,’ meaning the students dealing with all sorts of mental, emotional and psychological issues. He’s always felt that those classes were like a form of therapy for students in that they could get all of their thoughts out on paper in a safe and supportive environment and learn to write at the same time,” Wagner said.
Young asked Wagner if she’d be willing to work with the Lutie poetry class as Missouri poet laureate, and she said that she would.
“I sent him assorted assignments to give them, both for himself to do with them as well as some they would work on with me. He sent me the results of their work, and I made some comments on their poems and sent them back,” Wagner said.
The rebirth of Durable Goods, first published work
Aleathia Drehmer said it was during a conversation catching up with Young, whom she’d met in the small press poetry world, that an old project was brought up.
“In the mid 2000s I published a paper microzine called Durable Goods. It was wildly popular and went for 85 issues that touched every corner of the world and was cataloged in many university libraries,” Drehmer said. “It was a labor of love. Near the end of its run I was folding over 500 zines by myself and hand-stamping cards and envelopes. It had begun to be overwhelming. So I ended it.”
During the conversation with Drehmer, Young told her about the high school poetry class he was teaching and all the traumatic things the students had lived through.
“I have a soft spot for youth and poetry as it really saved my life when I was young. It has gotten me through many hard times,” she said. “After that conversation, he had asked me if I was going to ever bring Durable Goods back. Here we had a little miscommunication. I thought he was asking if I would bring it back for the kids, and he was asking just because he loved it.”
Young and Drehmer worked together in the months afterward to revive the publication with the Lutie high school poetry class’s work.
“I dusted off my template and started gathering subscribers. It was all very grassroots. In the end we had 70 subscribers to this first series. People were generous and paid forward subscriptions for others. Some poets donated their books to the class, some sent money… Other publishing opportunities started to rise up for these kids and it was amazing to see how embraced they were by the writing community,” Drehmer said.
Drehmer made each student a book bag and mailed them books of poetry, as well as copies of their published work in Durable Goods.
Poems scattered like seeds, second published work
That connection led to another publishing opportunity, this one with Richard Hanson. He was inspired to help put the students words into print again.
Hanson produces “mini-zines,” small 1.5-inch books, containing a poem or two. They feature engaging graphics on the front and have a fold-out interior format where the poem is printed.
“They’re small because they’re supposed to be scattered like seeds. So you can leave poems in books in the library or at gas stations or the cereal aisle at the grocery store,” Young explained.
Hanson sent each student several mini-zines with their own poems printed inside for them to leave in various places.
In Our Own Words, a third published work
A third publication of the students’ poetry came as a result of the relationship the class built with Wagner.
“As the president of the Writers Place in Kansas City, I am involved with a youth program called In Our Own Words. This is a MAC (Missouri Arts Council) supported program that involves writers working with at-risk students through poetry. I asked Scot if he’d like to be included even though we usually only include students in the Greater Kansas City area, but Zoom brought a change to the possibilities. He said he was interested, so that’s what we did,” Wagner explained.
The book-format publication features poems from eight schools, seven in the Kansas City area and Lutie High School. For more information on the project visit thewritersplace.wildapricot.org/youth-programs.
“At the end of the class, he sent me the revised poems they wrote, and I also asked him to take photos of him working with the students. When the typesetter set up the anthology of student poems from seven different schools, I asked him to put Scot’s students on the front cover as well as include other photos in the anthology along with the poems. I sent copies of the anthologies to Scot for each of his students as well as a few extra copies for parents or anyone else in the community who might be interested,” she said.
‘I couldn’t quit bawling’
Young said the students thought it was neat to be published, but they likely won’t grasp the importance of the publishing opportunities until they are older.
“They have four, probably five, publishing credits at the age of 15 or 16. Two of those are or will be perfect bound books….they may not realize the accomplishment now, but people all over this country, Europe and now Africa, look forward to the Durable Goods books the children are being published in,” Young said. “I only call them children because I found when we refer to them as teenagers or young adults, we tend to care a bit less. I will never do that. I love them for who they are, and that is all they want.”
For the class’s poetry final, students spread out across the school and accessed an online Zoom site for a poetry reading.
“I invited guests to listen… Ms. Wagner, Ms. Drehmer, I invited a friend who was an actor in LA. He’d been in movies with everybody, Clint Eastwood for one. He was there,” Young explained. “Some other accomplished poets publishing in the small press people were there. And the kids read their poems.”
Young said the class practiced reading the poems before the final, as the students had a tendency to want to race through the words. On finals day, they did a great job slowing down and allowing the words to impact the viewers.
“On the zoom page, you have all the little squares…one guy that was there as a poet, he’s an autoworker out of Ohio. He works at the Jeep factory, and he Zoomed in for the call. His camera went black during parts of it. He texted me and said ‘Sorry Scot. I had to turn my camera off because I couldn’t quit bawling.’”
The love of poetry that continues
The poetry class is being offered in the fall semester, and most of the same students have enrolled with the addition of three or four others.
Drehmer says she’s excited to continue working with the Lutie High School students to produce poems and disseminate them through Durable Goods.
“People are excited about the next series in the fall and we already have 39 of the 75 available spots for subscription filled,” she said. “This next series we are going to be working with prompts and generative writing which will be taught by a poet and event promoter from San Francisco.”
She says she’s still working as an “army-of-one” to produce and mail out the publication, and Young will work with the students to produce the poetry for it.
Young says he’s interested to seeing what will come from the upcoming semester.
He explains that his own love of poetry likely started as a result of Wagner’s tenth grade English class, when he was first presented with the Richard Brautigan’s poetry. He specifically connected with the poem, It’s Raining in Love.
“He was a hippy-type poet in San Fransisco in the early 70s, late 60s. She handed that out, and I went, ‘Oh, wow. That’s exactly how I feel,’” Young said. “So I started buying his books, and it just went from there.”
Young was further inspired by a college professor at Southwest Missouri State University who had a similar teaching style as Wagner and encouraged him to pursue a career in writing. When he returned to school at Missouri State University in Warrensburg, he had yet another great teacher who emphasized poetry through workshops and round table events.
“So, I’ve had three great English teachers that were all supportive and kind people,” he said.
He taught high school English at Lutie in the 90s and further grew his love for writing and teaching poetry.
“English teachers tend to teach what they like best. So instead of Shakespearan-type stuff, I taught poetry, and the kids seemed to respond to it.”
He later served as principal at Poplar Bluff High School and decided to teach a poetry class then. That class was one of his most memorable classes - and the one that inspired one of his own works, poetry 101 at 7:45 a.m. (see poem, at bottom of page).
Now his lessons are inspiring young poets, as Wagner’s lessons inspired him.
As for Young’s tenth grade teacher, she says she’s not surprised he continued to write poetry after her class.
“Once he connected with it, I knew he’d continue…” Wagner said. “It’s more surprising to me that he ended up with a goat farm in the Ozarks, but then once I thought about it, that really didn’t seem all that surprising either. It fits with his free spirit.”
The poem below is one that Lutie Superintendent Scot Young wrote in reference to a poetry class he taught at Poplar Bluff High School before he became a school administrator at Lutie. Young says he has found that poetry can be a creative outlet to help children who are struggling with difficult life circumstances.
poetry 101...7:45 a.m.
By Scot Young, Lutie superintendent
i never sat with brautigan
in a north beach bar
or hid out with bukowski in the city of angels
but if i had
i may have learned early
what the pages
i taught a poetry class
to your abused
broken & neglected
children and started to give
but they knew figurative language
well enough and tried to wear
the face of normal wanting
to be like other kids
tried to hide the scars
with just inked tattoos and too
they read their poems
of parents in prison
of foster homes
of being hooked on meth made
down a dead end country road
of how life is not suppose
to be at age 15
they learned that giving
to inanimate objects
sometimes lessened the pain
but i changed my lesson
plan when one of them said
what is good poetry
i suppose it is keeping
your wounds close
to the surface so they can heal
is that it
on most days
The poems shared below, written by Lutie students last year, are some of the ones published as part of the program In Our Own Words. Designed to reach at-risk students and with a strong interest in creative writing, the program is organized by Kansas City-baed organization The Writer’s Place with major funding from the Francis Family Foundation and the Missouri Arts Council.
By Robin Schofield, Lutie student
I walked to the trailer house today
I hid under the bed for old time’s sake
I found myself pressed into the shadows there
Ten years old and black bruises around her eyes
I ask if she wants a hug
She rolls her eyes and pushes me
from under the bed
The window is letting in harsh sunlight
Everything about this house is harsh
She’s used to it and so am I
No words are spoken as she asks me what’s going on
Her hands shake as she signs
I respond with our usual answer “school”
I add on that it’s not hard but we hate it anyways
She pulls a hoodie on over her head
I tease her and say “that doesn’t change either”
She sneaks a laugh between her busted lips
She asks me what does change
She says it looks like we grew up to be annoying
By Tember Brockett, Lutie student
Bounce off walls as I am trapped
The sound of pills
Bouncing in the orange white-capped bottle
The nurse’s cold fingertips
As they touch your shoulder
The feeling of the blue cloth gown
The smell of rubbing alcohol
The sound of people yelling
The movement of heated breath
On your neck as they talk
As they whisper in colors of grey
By Emily Linenbrink, Lutie student
She tells me
My poetry is like a beckoning call
So that, perhaps, the pond-fish may come
To hear fruitful words
Of the lilypads, bobbing up and down
On rippled water.
And one bites.
By Angel Hill, Lutie student
That’s my love language
My man could never compare
To the chicken fingers in dipped ranch
To the thighs on turkey
Food is life
And chicken nuggets make me feel better
My sadness is gone
Because my boyfriend left
to go get chocolate milk