The University Record, April 2, 1996

High school poets brainstorm, get help writing through IPG online

By Matthew Thorburn
News and Information Services

A high school student at Lansing's Waverly High School uses a modem to connect to the U-M, then begins downloading poems written by students in Germany and Japan. Another student reviews a printed critique of her poem from the U-M mentor, a student majoring in English and education.

Meanwhile, Waverly students continue to revise their latest poems, which they will later upload to the U-M. Still others are brainstorming book titles and themes for the poetry journal they will assemble at the end of the semester.

What sounds like a busy day at a publishing house is just another day in the life of high school students participating in the U-M's International Poetry Guild (IPG).

Students from around the world are meeting in IPG's electronic classroom to share a common interest poetry. Developed at the School of Education, IPG unites students in an on-line conversation devoted entirely to their own writing.

Participants recently met their computer cohorts and their student mentors from the U-M at the IPG Young Poets' Conference in Ann Arbor. More than 60 students from three Michigan high schools Howell, Waverly and Auburn Hills took part in the day-long program of workshops and readings.

Two U-M seniors, Mary Biddinger and Bich Nguyen, taught a workshop called "Off the Wall Writing Exercises." Biddinger and Nguyen gave the students 20 Little Poetry Projects, a kind of recipe for writing poems, because "we wanted th em to use different language and different topics," Biddinger says. The mentors encouraged the students to avoid clichés and strive for "fresher language, to write about concrete things instead of ideas," she adds.

The two mentors also held individual workshops. "So many of the poems we get in IPG are about love," Nguyen says, explaining the motivation behind her second workshop, "Focus on Love Poems." Students read a selection of conte mporary love poems, then Nguyen took them for a walk through the Law Quadrangle. "I wanted them to take inspiration from the architecture and from nature, and write a love poem," she says.

Nguyen emphasized the wide range of approaches poets take in dealing with this tricky topic. "We discussed different ideas of what love poems are about," she says. "They can be mean, linking love with hate. Sometimes they don't even have to use the word love." The workshop closed with students reading their poems aloud, "to build confidence," Nguyen says.

High school poets also read from their work at the Ann Arbor Barnes and Noble bookstore, and taped their work for "Living Poets," a radio show produced by WCBN, the U-M's student-run radio station. The visiting poets also sat in on several English classes on campus.

The IPG Young Poets' Conference reinforced the poetry guild's role in providing a place for high school students who otherwise might not have a peer community of poets, says IPG Director Jeffrey Stanzler.

"There are people in IPG, peers in other schools and the U-M mentors, who take their writing seriously and honor the effort that goes into the work," Stanzler says.

"IPG offers a safe environment for people who don't ordinarily have a place to get together. Unlike activities such as theater or sports, poetry is often solitary. IPG provides a rallying point for poets."