With students gathered, their pens in hand, the volunteer spoke.
“I want you to show me well enough with your words that I can see it with my brain,” teaching volunteer Sunny Summers told students at Fairview Junior High on Friday.
Summers was helping students with a project given to them by a visiting writer, Kathleen Flenniken. They were told to write instructions to an artist.
Flenniken is the poet laureate of Washington state – basically, she is the state’s officially sponsored poet. She visited Fairview last week as part of her larger goal to speak to students in all 39 of Washington’s counties.
She stood at the back of the library, a few dozen students seated in front of her, while she talked about artistic expression and the importance of pursuing your passion.
“Exposing students to the idea that writing poetry can be fun,” Flenniken said, “It’s another means of expression that’s available to them.”
Flenniken lived the first part of her life as an engineer and hydrologist in Richland, Wa. She said she didn’t even understand that she wanted to be a poet until she was already in her thirties.
“I didn’t realize it until later in life, and I wish I’d found it earlier,” she said.
That late discovery may be part of the reason Flenniken wants to work with as many students in Washington as she can — to help them find their preferred means of expression earlier than she did.
“Every person needs an outlet for their creativity,” Flenniken told the assembled students.
Flenniken read a poem called, “Instructions to the portrait artist” by Billy Collins, a former United States poet laureate. The poem is written as instructions to an imaginary artist who would draw Collins’ portrait. Flenniken then had students write their own instructions to an artist.
Trisha Sieck, an eighth-grader, was one of those students. She read her poem in front of the gathered group of students.
“Perhaps I shall have you paint a picture of my personality,” it started, “maybe I, with that of only a head with no eyes, as to see what’s inside.”
Sieck’s poem takes up a full page of her journal. Its description ranges from her physical appearance to her personality to the images in the background.
“It’s just from myself,” she said. “This isn’t everything about me, but it’s most of it.”
Kathleen Davis, a teacher at Fairview, asked Flenniken if she would be willing to come speak with the students. Davis said she works to bring in as many outside role models for the students as possible, to expose them to different opportunities.
Davis had teachers gather a list of students who are passionate about writing. She narrowed that list down to eight students and organized a time where Flenniken could meet with that small group of students and share her knowledge.
“It’s not often in the busy day of a junior high student they get to have the opportunity to speak one-on-one with a writer,” Davis said.
One of her biggest hopes for the students listening to Flenniken was that they would see it’s possible to make a living and follow your passions at the same time, Davis said.
Washington joined several other states in 2007 when the legislature passed a bill to appoint a state poet laureate.
Poet Laureates of Washington serve two year terms. Flenniken was appointed in February of 2012, so she will continue to serve the state for one more year. She said she was on track with her goals, visiting 21 counties in her first year, leaving 18 for year number two.