Friday, January 16, 2015

Poetry on Adventuress: High School Students Step Aboard to Write

In December, English classes from Port Townsend High School came aboard Adventuress to take inspiration for their writing. After exploring the ship to collect a list of eye-catching objects, students cycled through four groups as they worked to develop their objects and impressions towards a poem.

On deck with crew member Aimee, students sat against the rails with notebooks in their laps, expanding on the objects they had observed.  Many had a keen eye for the unique details of a ship that serves as a floating dockside classroom, a functioning historic vessel, and a home for winter crew.  One student’s list of objects included this motley assortment: “deck prism, fire extinguisher, lotsa coffee, brass insignia, Flash mug in Captain’s cabin.”

Although it was a time of quiet reflection, there were many questions about the particular language of the ship.  The unfamiliarity of the environment forced students to touch the objects that they wished to have explained–from cleats and futtocks to worm gears and king spokes. Later, cozy in the deckhouse, they were asked to select one of their objects and write a poem from its point of view.  To provide them with inspiration, crew member Lenny offered a series of thoughtful and humorous questions: “What did your object eat for breakfast?  What is it proud of?  What does it wish for?”

Chris Piersons English students sing “Acres of Clams.”
Groups continued below deck, first to learn about ballads and chanteys from guitar-wielding crew member Chris and then to meet with Gaia in the main cabin and continue to write and reflect.  At the end of their time aboard Adventuress, students gathered in a circle above deck to share the writing that they had produced: a Seussian poem about Adventuress, a poetic description of a sailor preparing to tack, a rap performed by a young man named Jordan with beatbox assistance from English teacher Chris Pierson, and a group sing-a-long of chantey favorite “Acres of Clams.”

Not only was a great deal of material produced, but many students noted the creative freedom of writing in an unfamiliar and history-rich space.  Says Koby, “Well, school feels more like a chore and we’re forced to be there.  I’m there to survive and get to the end of the day.  Here is different.  I’m still learning, but I feel like I’m here to actually do things.”  Asked about whether he feels differently about Port Townsend’s maritime history after coming aboard, he says, “You hear about it a lot, but you don’t actually know…[coming aboard] you feel less like a tourist.  Fewer generalized statements.  You get to actually have the experience.”  His classmate Elijah, who also sailed on Adventuress for the Marine Trades program last fall, echoes this idea of creative freedom, saying, “I feel a lot more at ease creatively and intellectually…headspace is a lot different here than in the classroom.”  Or, in McKinley’s concise words: “surrounded by walls it’s hard to have a free mind.”  

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